"If the Risk Is Low, Let Them Go": Efforts to Resolve the Growing Numbers of Aging Behind Bars

Reblogged from: Truth-Out
Article by Victoria Law
Jan. 10, 2014

Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents in shackles or dying behind bars. By 2030, the prison population age 55 and over is predicted to be 4,400 percent more than what it was in 1981. Some state and federal prison systems look at alternatives.

The recent release of 74-year-old Lynne Stewart has made headlines. Stewart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, was granted compassionate release December 31, 2013, after a protracted struggle by Stewart and supporters across the country. Stewart, whose cancer has spread to her lungs, lymph system and bones, will spend her remaining months with her family in Brooklyn.

But what about the aging and infirm people incarcerated nationwide who lack Stewart’s fame and support? The United States has some 125,000 prisoners age 55 and older, quadruple the number in 1995. Various human rights groups, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the Vera Institute of Justice have issued warnings about the increased numbers of aging, elderly and incapacitated behind bars. In response to these increases, several states, such as Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, are in the process of building hospice and geriatric units within their prison systems.

But what other solutions are there?

“If the Risk is Low, Let Them Go”

In New York, advocates – including formerly incarcerated people – have launched the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign. More than 9,200 people (nearly 17 percent) imprisoned in New York are 50 or older. While the state’s prison population dropped this past decade – from 71,466 in 2000 to 56,315 in 2011 – the number of people 50 and older has increased by 64 percent.

Lead organizer Mujahid Farid knows the obstacles facing people seeking parole. Farid was arrested in 1978 and sentenced to 15 years to life for an attempted murder. By the time he was eligible for parole in 1993, he had earned four college degrees as well as certificates for numerous other programs. None of these accomplishments mattered. He was denied parole based on his 1978 conviction. Farid appeared before the parole board ten times over the next 18 years before he was granted parole in 2011.

“I realized it wasn’t personal,” he told Truthout. “They’re not looking at your personal development. They’re simply looking at your conviction.” After his release, Farid met with advocates, including other formerly incarcerated people, to discuss how to overcome the hurdle within the parole system. Out of these discussions came RAPP.  Under the slogan “If the risk is low, let them go,” RAPP mobilizes to change the routine in which parole and compassionate release are denied to those who have spent decades in New York’s state prisons.

Read the rest here.

Dying inside: The elderly in prison


Plan to spend about 20 minutes weeping, if you tune into this documentary on aging in US prisons. Thank you, Jeremy Young and Al Jazeera.

———————-from Al Jazeera—————————-

Our program has aired and is finally up online—it is titled “Dying Inside: Elderly in Prison”. Here is the link to the show, please let me know your thoughts and feedback:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvqj8hgxRfg


If you toggle the settings on you tube from 360 to 720 and you have a strong internet connection the quality of the video is very vivid. Please feel free to share the video with whomever.

Many thanks to all of those people that helped us out along the way….your contributions are greatly appreciated!

Jeremy Young

Al Jazeera English- The Americas

1627 K Street, 11th Floor

Washington, D.C. 20006

Work- 202.496.4543

Cell- 202.651.1632

Releasing our Elders; Health Care Reform and Prisoners

From the list-serve/newsletter of www.curenational.org (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants)
——-New Vera Report Shows Difference between Geriatric Release Policy and Practice——-

Harsh sentencing policies have made correctional facilities throughout the United States home to a growing number of older adults. Yet most states with provisions for releasing older prisoners rarely use them, despite the relatively low risk eligible inmates would pose to public safety and the opportunity for potential cost savings.

It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release” examines statutes related to geriatric release in 15 states and the District of Columbia, identifies factors that help explain the discrepancy, and offers recommendations for those who would address it.

“The upshot is that there’s a difference between what states would like to do—save money by releasing older prisoners—and what actually happens,” says the report’s author, Tina Chiu. “If states want the result of geriatric release policies to be consistent with that objective, they should review the release process to address potential and existing obstacles.”

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.

—————————— Health Care Reform and Prisoners————————

Thirteen million people are incarcerated in jails annually.
Three and a half million of this 13 million are incarcerated more than once during the year.

 The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act (together referred to as “the health reform law” expands health insurance coverage by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low income people, to cover everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). For uninsured individuals above 133 FPL the bill sets up state-based “health insurance exchanges” or regulated insurance marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can compare and purchase private health insurance policies. (They will function something like websites like Travelocity or Orbitz, but for health insurance.) Lower income individuals will be eligible for tax subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges.

The health reform law does not change the current inmate exclusion for Medicaid and other federal health programs. Convicted inmates are also ineligible for insurance from the exchanges. However, pre-conviction inmates remain eligible and they also remain subject to the individual mandate to carry health insurance.

Regardless of the insurance arrangements covering prisoners, jails will still have a legal obligation based on the /Gamble /decision by the Supreme Court to provide medical care for all prisoners regardless of conviction status. How this obligation will be satisfied or impacted by the health reform legislation has not been addressed.

 There are two additional references to the criminal justice system in the health care bill. First, “conviction for a relevant crime of patient or resident abuse” disqualifies a person from being hired
as a health care worker, and second, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is specifically included in the Interagency Working Group on Health Care quality.

The Legal Action Center reports that the final health care bill incorporates many key elements on addiction and mental health services, as follows:

Includes substance use disorder and mental health (SUD/MH) services as required benefits in the basic benefit package for individual and small business health plans;
Requires that all plans in the health insurance exchange comply with the Wellstone/Domenici Parity Act in providing SUD/MH benefits in the same way as all other covered medical and surgical benefits;
Expands Medicaid eligibility for all Americans up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and require newly eligible parents and childless adults receive coverage that includes SUD/MH services provided at parity;
Includes SUD and MH prevention strategies and efforts in the bill’s chronic disease initiatives;
Includes the capacity of the mental and behavioral health workforce as high-priority topics in the bill’s National Workforce Strategy section; and
Includes insurance reforms and consumer protections critical for individuals seeking or in recovery, including prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, charging higher premiums based on health status, and placing annual or lifetime caps on insurance coverage.