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Senior Citizens Behind Bars

AN EDITORIAL IN TODAY’S New York Times reminds us of yet another cost of get-tough-on-crime policies: when more people are required to spend more time in jail, the population of elderly inmates increases.   Amongst other serious repercussions of such a development, there is a substantial increase in healthcare costs in prisons.  A 2010 Human Rights Watch report estimates the cost of providing medical care to elderly inmates in American prisons at between three and nine times the cost of providing care to the younger ones.

In the United States one out of every 12 inmates is now over 55 years old, an increase 240%  greater than the increase of the overall inmate population.  This follows upon tough mandatory sentencing policies that became popular in the 1970s.

According to a recent CBC report, one in four offenders in Canada under federal sentence, that is, in a penitentiary or on conditional release, is over 50 years old.  There are almost 1,000 inmates over the age of 60.

Given the commitment of the current government to building more prisons despite a dropping crime rate, perhaps it is time to consider doing here what is now beginning to be done in the United States: building prisons specifically for elderly inmates.