Elderly prisoners need better medical care: report

June 14, 2012, University of California, San Francisco

Soaring numbers of older, sicker prisoners are causing an unprecedented health care challenge for the nation's criminal justice system, according to a new UCSF report.

As the American penal system confronts a costly demographic shift toward older prisoners, the authors call for an overhaul in practices for elderly inmates who disproportionately account for escalating behind bars. The recommendations include screening for dementia among prisoners, improved , and standard policies for geriatric housing units for infirm inmates.

The article will be published online June 14, 2012, in the .

The report outlines nine policy recommendations that emerged from a gathering last year of 29 national experts in prison health care, , nursing and civil rights.

The recommendations promote cost-effective quality care for older prisoners, said lead author Brie Williams, MD, a UCSF associate professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics.

"A first step is to focus on these nine priority areas in order to set the stage for collaboration among the many disciplines involved in older prisoner health care," Williams said.

From 2000 to 2009, the country's grew by 16 percent, and the number of older prisoners – 55 years or older – increased nearly 80 percent.

As a result, prisons are increasingly challenged to provide care to older inmates with a litany of chronic medical conditions including diabetes, heart failure, cognitive impairment and end-stage liver disease. Many older inmates also suffer from infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C. With higher rates of disability in general, older prisoners cost approximately two to three times as much as younger inmates.

"Prisoners have a right to timely access to an appropriate level of care for serious medical needs,'' the authors said in the report. "Yet criminal justice health care systems are underprepared to provide cost-effective for older adults.''

The recommendations include:

  • Institute a standard definition of geriatric or older prisoners – the experts suggest age 55 or older;
  • Improve training of prison staff and health care providers;
  • Provide screening for dementia;
  • Identify health needs of older women prisoners;
  • Create national medical eligibility criteria for early prisoner release based on medical needs;
  • Establish uniform policies for geriatric .
The report points out that prompt attention to age-related disabilities of older inmates eventually would result in societal benefits outside prison gates. With the vast majority of inmates ultimately released back to the community, "Prison programs that improve health and cognitive skills or that target substance abuse have been associated with decreased recidivism and re-arrest,'' the authors wrote. And with better care during incarceration, prisoners when released would make less use of emergency rooms and other community medical resources.

Study funding was provided by the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation, by private correctional health care vendors and by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Williams is also the lead author of another report on the aging prison crisis that was recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS).

Problems with the graying prison population are straining state and local budgets by spilling into the community as well as public health care systems, the JAGS report found.

"Our study discusses how successful models of care that have been developed for older adults in the community could be adapted to address the mounting health care crisis of aging in the ," said Williams.

Explore further: Reforms needed for compassionate release of prison inmates

Related Stories

Reforms needed for compassionate release of prison inmates

June 2, 2011
The nation's system of freeing some terminally ill prisoners on grounds of compassionate release is so riddled with medical flaws and procedural barriers that many potentially medically eligible inmates are dying behind bars, ...

Physicians call for new approach to address national 'epidemic of mass incarceration'

June 1, 2011
With 2.3 million people behind bars and an estimated 10 million Americans cycling in and out of correctional facilities each year, the United States is in the midst of an "epidemic of mass incarceration," say researchers ...

Improving African justice systems essential to prevent spread of HIV and TB in prisons

May 8, 2012
In order to reduce HIV and TB in African prisons, African governments and international health donors should fund criminal justice reforms, experts from Human Rights Watch say in this week's PLoS Medicine.

Recommended for you

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.