A huge percentage of America’s massive prison is getting older by the day(Rushing, 2010). Decades ago the Criminal Justice System handed out very long sentences to a large number of prisoners(Rushing, 2010).These sentences are today contributing to the growing percentage of aging prisoners in American prisons. Both federal and state governments are today dedicating special units, facilities, and resources just for the elderly across the U.S. prisons. With the recent economic crisis, the issue has become more adverse. Today, locking up an elderly inmate costs almost three times more than imprisoning younger prisoners. This is a new challenge that the U.S.Criminal Justice System faces. It reflects the changing demographics of the population of prisons in the U.S. The number of older people in the U.S. prisons is exponentially growing. Particularly, the percentage of inmates 60 years old and above has in the past six years increased by more than 60 percent (Williams, Stern, M., Mellow, Safer, & Greifinger, 2012). This is despite the fact that the overall federal and state prison population have stayed rather flat. The number of prison sentences between 2002 and 2011 both under federal and state jurisdictions have only increased by 19 percent, while that of older inmates, those over 60 years old have increased by 80 percent (Kerbs & Jolley, 2014). The present problems experienced by prison departments across the nation are the result of lack of information and proper training of prison staff and can be solved by better elderly training programs.
The 60 percent growth in the population of elderly inmates had momentous medical, behavioral, and social implications on the correctional management inside and outside the institutions. Managers of correctional facilities are now appreciating the enormity of their duty and responsibilities with regard to the issues, such as safety, protection, socialization, recreation, and health related to aging inmates. For instance, working with aging inmates involves treating prisoners with pasts characterized by excess smoking, alcohol drinking, heavy physical labor, and sexual promiscuity, which taken together impact the healthy aging. As a result, entry into the prison environment makes prisoners with any preexisting conditions or symptoms vulnerable. Their conditions are likely to deteriorate, since medical service in prisons usually are a little behind external medicine especially in terms of offering the required treatment. Health concerns such as neurological, psychiatric, gastrointestinal, neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and dermatological conditions remain untreated, especially, in older adult inmates (Krabill & Aday, 2011). Additionally, the environmental hazards related to the prison environment mostly make it impossible for inmates to avoid aging. Most aging prisoners have different experiences with the correctional system, service needs, or medical problems, and background demographics (Kerbs & Jolley, 2014). These, coupled with long sentence lengths and prisoners’ histories are often important determinants of stressors that inmates face while in prison, coping mechanisms adopted for adjustment purposes, and engagement in health-seeking behaviors. These elderly inmates face diverse problems in certain areas including nurturing and maintaining external relations, developing and keeping internal relations, and physiological deterioration. Therefore, solutions that address the challenges brought about by older prison population such as health, social, and medical needs, as well as costs.
Currently, there is limited availability of elderly training programs meant to educate correctional system officials who are outside the healthcare profession. In this respect, it is vital to develop and implement sound elderly training programs. These would open up opportunities specifically designed for correctional system officers such as prison wardens, prison healthcare staff, as well as custodial staff to be more informed and knowledgeable about the diverse needs and common health situations of aging adults (Williams et al., 2012). Therefore, introducing and making such training programs available will ensure that the services and care that is provided for elderly prisoners guarantee their physical safety, comfort and health.
Elderly prisoners usually suffer from prison-based functional impairment. For instance, an older adult inmate may not be able to independently climb onto a top bunk bed, something that is expected of them in prison(Rushing, 2010). It is therefore important for officers in the correctional system to be able to identify the triaging, as well as to distinguish the differences between prison-based functional impairment and community-based functional impairment. This would give them the opportunity to identify elderly inmates in need of additional assistance, support, as well as supervision as a result of functional impairment.
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With quite a huge number of the prisoner population aging, there are certain medical conditions that are common among older inmates. The prevalence of dementia is usually associated with age. However, in prison inmates often possess certain common risks factors for dementia such as low levels of education, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as traumatic brain injury (Williams et al., 2012). It is therefore imperative for the criminal justice system to design an ideal cognitive screening tool that will be used for screening prisoners for dementia. This would ensure that medical conditions such as dementia are identified early enough and proper care accorded. This will lower the cost of healthcare and guarantee a somewhat safer environment for aging prisoners. Additionally, this will be a great step towards making lives better for aging prisoners.
Older women that are 55 years old and above make up 5 percent of the entire prison population of the older prisoners above 55(Williams et al., 2012). Aging women prisoners, apparently, have diverse and different needs compared to aging men. In fact, compared to men women need more health care and medical services. This is because women have different health care usage patterns. Therefore, there is a need for expanded research on the population and lives of aging women prisoners. This will help inform and guide professionals in the criminal justice system on the unique social and health issues that may affect aging women inmates. The results from the expanded research will ensure that special programs are designed to address the medical and health care needs of aging women prisoners.
Correctional institutions are today facing problems in regards to the accommodation needs of the aging prison population. Walkers and wheelchairs are two examples of ambulatory and transport requirements that most correctional facilities do not have(Rushing, 2010). Elderly accommodation units will bring aging populations together in centralized locations and have the ability to improve the safety of aging prisoners and decrease the costs associated with care, as well as increase aging prisoners’ access to care. In this regard, correctional facilities should look to design new plans that will guarantee assisted living as well as skilled nursing care for elderly inmates (Williams et al., 2012). They should also consider low toilets, low beds, and assistive devices that are age-friendly. Addressing these accommodation needs will ensure that the services and care that is provided for elderly prisoners ensures their physical safety, comfort and health needs are catered for.
The solutions proposed in this paper however, may be considered by critics and skeptics as being too expensive and maybe needless. However, it is vital to note that, for safety, fiscal, and health reasons, these changes are important. Health care professionals and other professionals involved in the correctional system must take steps to recognize the different and diverse needs of the aging prisoners. They should also make sure that expectations, services, and care that is provided for elderly prisoners ensures their safety and health needs.
There is no point in grappling with the high costs spent for taking care of elderly prisoners if there can be no policy change to minimize costs and make the lives of elderly prisoners better. As discussed above, change in approach is necessary as far as caring for elder men and women in prisons is concerned owing to their unique social, medical and functional needs. Apart from engaging prison staff in elderly care programs, research on ways to handle elderly prisoners could also lead to the discovery of cheaper, as well as more effective programs. As far as housing or accommodation is concerned, having separate wings in prison housing units specially designed for elderly prisoners could have unimaginable benefits. Most of these solutions hinge on the point that some of the problems experienced in prisons with aging prisoners are preventable. After all, has it not always been said that prevention is better than cure?