Aging prison population meets a system that's unprepared for it


I subscribe to an online publication for senior issues for journalists called. Generations Beat Online (GBO). The most recent issue speaks to incarcerated seniors – a subject to which I personally have not given any thought to.

But now our 76-year-old former president has been indicted for crimes, and if convicted, will become part of this population, so I wanted to know more about what he will face if he goes to prison.

Because he is a former president, he may have a different set of circumstances than you or I.

For decades, statisticians, social workers and health care workers have been beating the drum about the arrival of the baby boomers, and yet we seem to be woefully unprepared for their numbers.

Hospitals, medical personnel, and even animal services are unable to keep up with the number of seniors arriving at their doors.  Prisons were not even on my radar.

Since I do not personally know anyone young or old in prison, this was all news to me. I am very familiar with the loneliness faced by the home bound elderly and can only imagine what this must be like for those elders behind bars. But behind bars is where our society has said they belong for the safety of those of us who are not.

According to GBO, Prison makes an awful elderly care facility, yet more prisons are rapidly becoming just that.

Aging Behind Prison Walls:

Aging Behind Prison Walls: Studies in Trauma and Resilience, a book by Tina Maschi and Keith Morgen, states the following:

“Today, more than 200,000 men and women over age fifty are languishing in prisons around the United States. It is projected that by 2030, one-third of all incarcerated individuals will be older adults”.

Health problems exacerbated by incarceration:

Interviews with inmates of all ages describe health care as less than optimal, but for our older population, this can easily become life-threatening.

The correctional system is grappling with how to manage the complex health, mental health, social, and legal needs of a rapidly growing geriatric population.

Health, mental health, and addiction are significant concerns among older people in prison. Incarcerated older adults have higher rates of chronic illnesses or disabilities, such as heart and lung disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and cognitive impairment/dementia, as compared to both incarcerated younger adults and older people living in the community.

Minor to severe trauma, mental health, substance abuse, and other addiction issues are commonplace.

Past poor health behaviors (e.g., addictions, living in poverty, homelessness, and chronic exposure to violence) coupled with the stressful conditions of the prison environment, place older adults at increased risk for age-related physical and mental health problems, especially dementia.

Thanks in large part to longer prison sentences and decreasing rates of parole, the number of incarcerated people 55 and older has climbed from 48,000 to 160,000 over the last two decades.

In 2019, this age group made up 63% of state prison deaths for the first time since figures were tracked, according to the most recent data available.

Not to mention all the current 30-year-olds that have been sentenced to life terms.

Prison classes appear to be geared primarily toward younger inmates – parenting, anger management, college degrees and so on. Some of the facilities offer animal training that can be enjoyed by all ages. Religious services are offered.

Family events are also offered via video and in-person visits.

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) and Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) are in our neck of the woods and listed as minimum-security facilities. Both offer DOC Policy 530.155 Family Councils and maintain a Local Family Council (LFC). Family council meetings provide an opportunity for family members to ask questions, get information, and share their perspective of the facility. All approved visitors may attend a family council meeting.

In addition to family members, meetings are generally attended by the facility Superintendent or Associate Superintendent, Visiting Program staff representative, Family Services Program staff representative, and others as needed. At most facilities, participants can attend in person or over the phone by calling a toll-free number.

For more information see the Washington State Department of Corrections Facebook page or click this link for resources.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below. 


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  • fyancey

    I appreciate your pointing out this real problem/dilemma. It has escaped any coverage over the magnitude of the unmet needs and demands on a system that has not responded to these needs. Thanks for the heads up.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2023 Report this