31 October 2011

Geezers In Prison

People, often older people, serving life sentences, constitute a large portion of our nation's prison population. For example, 20% of prisoners in California's overcrowded prison system are serving life sentences.

From 1984 to 2008, the number of offenders serving life terms quadrupled, from 34,000 to roughly 140,000 . . . . One of the fastest-growing subgroups are inmates serving life without the possibility of parole. Those numbers have jumped from 12,453 in 1992 to 41,095 in 2008 and represent the most costly inmates to house as the aging inmates require increased medical care.

Yet, older inmates are much, much less likely to reoffend when released than younger inmates, and the crimes that they do commit when they reoffend show a strong tendency to be less serious than their original crimes.

A Stanford University study in September showed the recidivism rate was less than 1 percent among 860 murderers paroled in California since 1995. Five returned to prison for new felonies, none for similar life-term crimes. By contrast, nearly 49 percent of all released California inmates were recommitted for new crimes.

"Not only are most violent crimes committed by people under 30, but even the criminality that continues after that declines drastically after age 40 and even more so after age 50," the study found. . . .

New York now has more than 800 prisoners who are 65 or older, double the total a decade ago. It has no death penalty, though 34 states and the federal government do. Federal prisons held 3,254 inmates age 66 or older in August, up from 1,326 in 2000. From 1985 to 2006 in New York, 72 prisoners released when they were over 65 were returned for new crimes, less than 5 percent.

Of course, we also have insanities like increasing the sentence of a man set for release on parole after seventeen years in prison, for the technical prison system violation of calling family on a borrowed illicit prison cell phone to let family know that he had finally been released on parole. Normally, a technical violation is punishable by the loss of up to 90 days of good time, but in this case it was used to revoke a parole grant that had just been awarded to the inmate, and parole hearings are held only every five years for individuals serving the kind of sentences that this inmate was serving. The decision will cost California taxpayers about $250,000 and exacerbate California's compliance with a federal court order to reduce crowding in its prison system.

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