Stop Jailing The Elderly

We need to put the elderly to work, not in jail.

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A friend of mine recently went to the emergency room, believing his chest pains might indicate a heart attack. He said they put him through a chemically-induced stress test for his heart. He’s fine, but part of his story got me to thinking.

When my friend left the room where the stress test took place, he noticed the person waiting in the hall to be tested was slumped over in a wheelchair. The awaiting patient was dressed in an orange jumpsuit, arms covered in ink, wrists in handcuffs, his thinning grey hair uncombed. Most noticeably, two police officers stood over him, watching him carefully.

How much does it cost to have two officers, who have been somewhere else, responding to an active crime scene, instead, guarding, what looked to be a harmless, elderly, prisoner waiting to have his heart stress tested?

The problem is our criminal justice system is putting more and more of the elderly in prison. Clint Eastwood’s latest movie “The Mule,” is based on a true story. Of course, I don’t condone trafficking drugs, but there is no reason an 87-year-old man (or woman) should go to prison.

Eastwood’s character is based on Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran, great-grandfather, no criminal record, and was a day-lily legend. When arrested, he was so nervous an artery on his neck was visibly throbbing, the officer noted.

The judge showed no mercy. Sharp was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Sharp will likely die there.

The DoJ’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report in 2016 which laid out in stark terms the dollars and cents of incarcerating the elderly. The Inspector General wrote, “We also found that average cost per inmate rises with age, with the 8,831 inmates age 18 to 24 costing an average of $18,505 each and the 157 inmates age 80 and older costing an average of $30,609 each.”

The larger issue the report highlights is that the fastest growing segment of the prison population is aged 50 and over, growing 25 percent from 2009 to 2013. During the same period, the number of prisoners under 50 decreased by one percent, which included inmates under 29 whose population decreased 16 percent.

If you think a prison looks like “The S h a w s h a n k Redemption,” think again. A report entitled “Old Behind Bars” from Human Rights Watch summarized, “Prisons in the United States contain an ever growing number of aging men and women who cannot readily climb stairs, haul themselves to the top bunk, or walk long distances to meals or the pill line; whose old bones suffer from thin mattresses and winter’s cold; who need wheelchairs, walkers, canes, portable oxygen, and hearing aids; who cannot get dressed, go to the bathroom, or bathe without help; and who are incontinent, forgetful, suffering chronic illnesses, extremely ill, and dying.”

You might be saying, “slow down George, some of these old cons deserve to be where they are.” I’m not talking about violent criminals. It’s estimated the average person commits three felonies a day, without even knowing it.

NASCAR driver Bobby Unser got lost in a blizzard for two days while snowmobiling, and was found guilty of “unlawful operation of a snowmobile within a National Forest Wilderness Area.” He served six months in prison.

James Rosen from Fox News was sent to Washington, D.C., to write an investigative piece pertaining to national security. A government employee working in national security gave him inside information and insisted upon remaining anonymous. Rosen’s editors published the piece, and he was charged with violating provisions of the Espionage and Censorship Act.

Bret McDanel served 16 months in prison when he alerted customers of his old company, Tornado Development, about a software problem that was never fixed. The prosecutors argued that McDanel had damaged Tornado’s system, while he simply was pointing out the company’s email system had a flaw that could allow an attacker to gain access to a user’s email records.

Prisons are loaded with aging doctors, accountants, and other professionals who could be productive citizens while posing no threat to society.

I know government and common sense doesn’t belong in the same sentence. However, slap an ankle bracelet on the professionals in prison, let them out, and put them to good use.

LW

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