American prisons, in other words, are holding a swelling population of elderly inmates. According to Bureau of Justice figures from 2017, nearly 200,000 people aged 55 and older are incarcerated in America.
We found that, on average, more than 10% of people in state prisons are over the age of 55. Some state prison systems have much higher percentages of older adults, like in Montana, where over 17% of the state prison population is 55 years or older.
There are an estimated 265,000 elderly prisoners serving the remaining time they have left on their long sentences in life behind bars. That is around 13% of all inmates across the country.
Between 1993 and 2003, the majority of the growth occurred among prisoners ages 40 to 54, while the number of those age 55 or older increased faster from 2003 to 2013. In 1993, the median age of prisoners was 30; by 2013, the median age was 36.
Older prisoners arguably age faster than their cohorts on the outside of the institution as a direct result of chronic, long-term diseases and a history more accustomed to drug and alcohol abuse. Some U.S. states have begun to expedite parole or expand compassionate release for older prisoners.
Between 1993 and 2003, the majority of the growth occurred among prisoners ages 40 to 54, while the number of those age 55 or older increased faster from 2003 to 2013. The changing age structure in the U.S. state prison population has implications for the future management and care of inmates.
A reality is that many of the elderly in prison will die behind bars. On average, more than 3,000 men and women die while incarcerated each year. Due to the trauma and the stress of their incarceration, geriatric prisoners are more prone to serious health issues.
Elderly prisoners with dementia are also at an increased risk of victimization, sexual assault and bullying from other prisoners. Additionally, because they struggle to understand and follow prison rules, they are also more likely to be subjected to harsh punishment while incarcerated.
Released in 2011 at the age of 108, Brij Bihari Pandey is the oldest prisoner ever in the world. Although Pandey technically only served a two-year sentence, he has been in jail since 1987 after he was arrested for the murder of four people.
An aging offender or an elderly offender is an individual over the age of 55 who breaks the law or is in prison. Incarceration also tends to accelerate the aging process.
Male prisoners, who made up 93% of the total prison population at year-end 2018, declined by almost 23,500 (down 1.7%) from year-end 2017. Females, who made up 7.6% of the total prison population, decreased by almost 530 (down 0.5%).