Virginia Prison Population Growing Older, More Expensive To Treat
A new report shows more and more people who are over the age of 50 are being sentenced to prison in Virginia. And that’s led to a rise in healthcare costs for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
The Joint Commission on Healthcare, a research arm of the General Assembly released a study this week that shows between 2010 and 2016, the geriatric prison population, inmates who are age 50 and older increased almost 40 percent.
“The same complications that you and I have as we grow older are entering the prison system,” said Stephen Weiss, Senior Health Policy Analyst with the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Healthcare. “So if they have complex cardiovascular problems, if they have cancer, if they have advanced diabetes or any obesity issues, that all goes with them.”
Weiss said the older inmates make up less than a quarter of the general prison population but use nearly half the department’s annual hospital budget. Medicaid and Medicare do not cover people who are incarcerated.
And Weiss said the growth isn’t from inmates aging behind bars. New court commitments are driving the increase. According to the report, 82 percent of geriatric offenders at Deerfield Correctional Center, which houses geriatric and assisted living inmates are charged with rape and sexual assault. System-wide, 21 percent of all inmates over 50 in Virginia prisons have been charged with sex offenses.
The report recommends prisons be updated to better accommodate an aging population and prevent the spread of illness. It also suggests lowering the age at which inmates can qualify for early release from 60 to 55 when they have complex medical problems.
Correction: A previous version of this story said 82 percent of offenders in Virginia prisons who are over the age of 50 have been charged with rape and sexual assault. That percentage refers to geriatric inmates at Deerfield Correctional Center only.