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How Dangerous Are Infirm Inmates?

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 11, 2018 01:07

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“The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The foremost job of any prison system is to protect society from those who are a danger to the members of that society, followed by punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation.

Nobody will dispute that those who are a danger to society deserve to be in prison. Some prisoners cannot be rehabilitated and continue to be a threat most of their lives. That is an indisputable fact. It is also an indisputable fact that there are many inmates in prison who not only are not, but cannot be a threat to society. Why? Because they are too old and infirm.

Yes, those in prison are being punished, being prevented from committing more crimes, and hopefully, being rehabilitated. At what point does punishment become pure retribution?

Prisons are not designed to be geriatric facilities and they are not able to care for inmates that are infirm, in wheelchairs, on oxygen, and in other ways unable to move rapidly, or even to move without assistance.  Nor do they have the budgets, medical facilities or staff to deal with such inmates. Yet, the number of those in prison age 55 or older grew at six times the rate of the overall population between 1995 and 2010, straining the budgets of systems not designed to care for the elderly and infirm.

The Human Rights Watch estimates that the number of sentenced federal and state prisoners age 65 and older grew a full 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population between 2007 and 2010. The older prison population increased 63 percent compared to a total prisoner population growth of only 0.7 percent during that same time frame.

Most of those between 55 and 70 are healthy, but what about those over 70, those who are dealing with major chronic medical problems, debilitating age related diseases such as dementia, those who may have a terminal disease that mostly or totally incapacitates them, those who need a walker or a wheelchair to get around, who cannot use stairs (there are no elevators in prison); they are physically unable to commit another crime.

When an inmate becomes so frail they cannot be a threat to society even if they wanted, punishment is not punishment. Deterrence no longer applies to that inmate. Rehabilitation is meaningless.

The only purpose of keeping such an inmate in prison is retribution, which is not the purpose of any corrections system.

Such inmates should be placed on parole, even if a condition of parole is house arrest. Let the elderly that have reached the point that age renders them helpless end their lives outside prison, in a relatives’ home or an assisted care facility, or any other place that has the medical equipment, staff, and ability to provide end of life care. No matter their crime, their life is at an end. Let that end have some dignity.   

It is the humane thing to do.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 11, 2018 01:07

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Source: KRQE 13

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) -- Criminal justice reform is enjoying a surge of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill this year....

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