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Florida’s Aging Prison Population: Increased Medical Costs on the State Lead to Options, Programs for Elderly Inmates

According to study published in September 2014, called Florida’s Aging Prisoner Problem, it was estimated that Florida’s elderly prison population (“elderly” defined as over the age of 50), increases every year by more than 1,000 prisoners. Since 2000, the elderly prisoner population has jumped from around 5,600 prisoners to roughly 21,000 prisoners in the year 2014. Of these 21,000 prisoners over the age of 50 assessed in June 2014, about 5,690 of the prisoners were at least 60 years old, roughly 1,090 were at least 70 years old, 130 were 80 years old or older, and 10 were over the age of 90.

Medical Care Costs for Elderly Inmates

With elderly inmates come serious health issues, especially as inmate health declines due in large part to the prison lifestyle, which is riddled with sickness, injury, and violence. Prison conditions can have serious ramifications on life expectancy within prison, as well as significant medical care that must be administered to heal or alleviate pain and sickness from the elderly community. Based on several statistics and estimations, the aging prison population accounts for almost 47% of all care and about 49% of all hospital visits. Other studies reflect that on average a person over the age of 50 will cost nearly three times the amount that a younger prisoner would cost to keep incarcerated. One question is on the minds of legislative and judicial authorities: where is the line drawn between providing expensive medical and mental treatment to prisoners and not providing treatment, which could be perceived as an Eighth Amendment violation prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment?

Compassionate Release

There are some options that help Florida deal with elderly populations. First is the concept of compassionate release. Compassionate release occurs when the state permits inmates who are permanently incapacitated or terminally ill to be released from prison to the custody of family members or a hospital. The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently passed an amendment to the procedures and criteria surrounding compassionate release. Compassion release, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is permitted for inmates who:

  • Are older than 65 years of age;
  • Suffer from a serious medical condition relating to aging;
  • Suffer from a serious mental or physical deterioration that makes it difficult to function in a prison facility;
  • Are unable to improve their mental or physical defects through conventional medical treatments; and
  • Have served at least 50% of their sentence.

Compassionate release is rarely permitted for most elderly inmates, and it is especially rare in Florida where a law passed in the 1990s removed the concept of parole, putting into place a program that assessed early release for inmates who had served 85 percent of their sentence.

Florida’s House Bill 785: Supervised Early Release

Florida has seen recent legislative initiatives that promote compassionate release and initiatives that make life easier for elderly prisoners. House Bill 785, which ultimately died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in April 2015, would have provided benefits to the inmate population such as supervised early release and expanded eligibility for the existing conditional medical release program. The bill also required that once an inmate turned 50, there would be established standards of care and examination of the needs of the elderly inmate. The bill would permit supervised early release for inmates who are:

  • Over the age of 65;
  • Have served at least 50 percent of the sentence; and
  • Have no more than two prior felony convictions, neither of which is a violent, capital, or sexual offense, or any offense involving a child.

The program would also assess the inmate’s criminal history, prison behavior, and the extent of which he/she has accepted responsibility for his/her actions, among other factors.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Elderly inmates generally are inmates who were young criminal defendants sentenced to long-term prison incarceration. Part of avoiding becoming an elderly inmate is to have an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can advocate on your behalf for a shorter sentence. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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