I doubt if the readers of this newspaper are aware that the population of older people behind bars has become a national crisis!
In New York state the number of incarcerated people over age 50 has risen 81 percent since 2000 and now exceeds 9,000. That's almost 20 percent the total incarcerated population and the majority of them, over the age of 60.
In 2014 a “Participants in the Center for Justice Seminar” was held at Columbia University. Those who took part included the Osborne Association, the Correctional Association of New York, Fordham University and both of Columbia University's School of Public Health and their Center for Justice.
The day-long event featured speeches by Brian Fischer, New York state’s former commissioner of corrections; Edward Hammock, former chair of the New York State Parole Board; Jamie Fellner, of Human Rights Watch; as well as a long list of prominent advocates from across the nation. All were in agreement that a more humane and less costly system of corrections, including formerly incarcerated people, needed to be addressed.
The symposium examined the growing numbers of aging people in prison, their prison conditions, their transition back into the community and the need to increase the release of aging people who pose little or no public safety risk.
Those in attendance also agreed that New York state, as well as other states, as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, can and should release many more older incarcerated people than they currently do.
A policy document was subsequently published by the Center for Justice at Columbia University and edited by Samuel Roberts, associate professor of History. The 161 page report – “Aging in Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety” can be downloaded at: http://centerforjustice.columbia.edu/files/2015/10/AgingInPrison_FINAL_web.pdf
For those who go online, be sure to check on page XVIII where speaker after speaker indicates a high priority to the list of recommendations for reform and also to "expand and reform the parole process to stop using the 'nature of the crime' to bar release of older people serving long sentences,” and push also for the passage of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act (S01728/A02930), as well as expand the use of compassionate or medical release and clemency.
Since taxpayers are the ones paying these exorbitant costs to house the elderly, they need to let their legislators know to pass the Parole Act.
Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore