A report released Wednesday by the organization finds that states spend more than $16 billion of taxpayer money annually locking up hundreds of thousands of “elderly” prisoners who are unlikely to re-offend.
“Extremely disproportionate sentencing policies, fueled by the ‘tough on crime’ and ‘war on drugs’ movements, have turned our prisons into nursing homes, and taxpayers are footing the bill,” Inimai Chettiar, ACLU advocacy and policy counsel and one of the report’s lead authors, said in a news release.
The report, “At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly,” says states would save an average of more than $66,000 per year for each older, low-risk prisoner released – even after factoring in post-release costs such as housing and health care.
According to the ACLU, 50 is the criminological consensus of when a prisoner becomes "elderly" because people age physiologically faster behind bars. There are roughly 246,600 criminals who meet that definition who are incercerated in the U.S.
The WSJ story said that the aging prisoner population was forcing cash-strapped local governments to wrestle with the growing cost of care — and that some experts were advocating for releasing some older inmates early.
That story cited a study by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, which said the number of state and federal prisoners 55 or over nearly quadrupled to 124,400 between 1995 and 2010, while the prison population as a whole grew by only 42%.
Critics of releasing aging prisoners early say letting inmates walk could send a bad message to younger offenders, the WSJ story says. They also say the threat of a lengthy incarceration, among other things, has helped keep crime rates at historically low levels.