With a growing number of aging inmates, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said Tuesday the state's prison system is facing challenges, including increasing health care costs.
A report released by DiNapoli found the number of inmates age 50 and older increased 46 percent from 2007 to 2016. The rise occurred as the state's overall inmate population declined over the last decade.
In 2007, there were 63,304 inmates in the state prison system and nearly 11 percent of them — 6,945 — were at least 50 years old.
Last year, there were 52,344 inmates being held in the state's correctional facilities and 19 percent — 10,140 — were age 50 and older.
The rising number of older inmates could be a factor as the state's prisoner health care costs increase. The state doesn't have costs by age group available, DiNapoli's review found inmate health care costs increased to more than $380 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The health care expenses rose $64.5 million over a three-year period.
DiNapoli said more data is needed to help the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and lawmakers to develop strategies for addressing the rising costs.
"New York must confront the challenges of an aging inmate population," DiNapoli said in a statement. "We need to better understand and study the issues and examine what others are doing effectively to determine an approach that protects taxpayers, keeps the public safe and provides humane care."
There are a few ideas floated by DiNapoli in the report. He touted the benefits of medical parole, which has allowed for the release of 327 inmates since the program was established in 1992. The state has saved more than $15 million by granting medical parole to certain inmates, state officials said.
Recidivism rates are generally low for older inmates and that's especially true for those who are released on medical parole. From 1992 through 2014, only six inmates who were granted medical parole returned to prison.
Executive clemency is another possibility, but it's only granted in rare cases. Since 2006, governors have received 2,601 petitions for executive clemency. Fifteen of the requests were granted.
There are facilities within DOCCS that aid aging inmates, including a 30-bed unit at Fishkill Correctional Facility that treats inmates with Alzheimer's, Huntington's and and Parkinson's diseases.
In his executive budget proposal this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for nearly $500,000 to create a 50-bed dormitory at Ulster Correctional Facility that would house inmates who are age 55 or older.