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Elderly Offenders in Texas Prisons

NCJ Number
Pablo Martinez Ph.D.; Eric Benson; Kim Harrison; Curt Lansing; Michelle Munson
Date Published
January 1999
13 pages
This document examines the factors that have accelerated the growth in the elderly inmate population in Texas prisons.
The elderly population in Texas prisons represents a small but growing percentage of the prison population. In 1998, there were 4,779 inmates age 55 or older representing 3.7 percent of the prison population. This compares to 2,567 in 1994 representing 2.6 percent of the prison population. Texas prison officials house about 47 percent of the elderly population in special wings in 14 prison units while the rest of the elderly inmate population is housed in other units throughout the prison system. The elderly wings have limited special programming for these inmates. The elderly inmate population has increased faster than any other inmate age group. The increase is mainly driven by an increase in admissions to prison of elderly inmates that has outpaced the rate of growth in overall admissions. Elderly inmates are admitted to prison with longer sentences than offenders in other age groups, resulting in relatively longer time to serve in prison. The average sentence at admission to prison in 1998 for elderly inmates was 11.6 years compared to the overall average sentence for all admissions of 8.1 years. The faster growth in admissions and the longer time served in prison are the two main factors that have accelerated the growth in the elderly inmate population in Texas. The tendency of inmates to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse, coupled with their lack of preventive health care, leads to the “early aging” of inmates. Inmates tend to have health problems that are more common in persons 10 years older. Therefore, inmates 55 and older are considered elderly for health care management purposes. The elderly inmate population is projected to increase by 121 percent between 1998 and 2008. This increase in population may cause the health care costs of the elderly inmate population to more than double during this period. The prison system’s annual health care cost for elderly inmates may increase from $27 million per year in 1999 to $56 million in 2008.