The U.S. Department of Justice announced the release of a new report The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Executive Summary appears below, followed by a link to the full report.
The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons
In September 2013, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) incarcerated 164,566 federal inmates in 119 BOP-managed institutions.1 According to BOP data, inmates age 50 and older were the fastest growing segment of its inmate population, increasing 25 percent from 24,857 in fiscal year (FY) 2009 to 30,962 in FY 2013.2 By contrast, during the same period, the population of inmates 49 and younger decreased approximately 1 percent, including an even larger decrease of 29 percent in the youngest inmates (age 29 and younger). Based on BOP cost data, we estimate that the BOP spent approximately $881 million, or 19 percent of its total budget, to incarcerate aging inmates in FY 2013.3 The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to assess the aging inmate population’s impact on the BOP’s inmate management, including costs, health services, staffing, housing, and programming. We also assessed the recidivism of inmates who were age 50 and older at the time of their release.
Results in Brief
The OIG found that aging inmates are more costly to incarcerate than their younger counterparts due to increased medical needs. We further found that limited institution staff and inadequate staff training affect the BOP’s ability to address the needs of aging inmates. The physical infrastructure of BOP institutions also limits the availability of appropriate housing for aging inmates. Further, the BOP does not provide programming opportunities designed specifically to meet the needs of aging inmates. We also determined that aging inmates engage in fewer misconduct incidents while incarcerated and have a lower rate of re-arrest once released; however, BOP policies limit the number of aging inmates who can be considered for early release and, as a result, few are actually released early.
Aging inmates are more costly to incarcerate, primarily due to their medical needs. We found that the BOP’s aging inmate population contributes to increases in incarceration costs. Aging inmates on average cost 8 percent more per inmate to incarcerate than inmates age 49 and younger (younger inmates). In FY 2013, the average aging inmate cost $24,538 to incarcerate, whereas the average younger inmate cost $22,676. We found that this cost differential is driven by increased medical needs, including the cost of medication, for aging inmates. BOP institutions with the highest percentages of aging inmates in their population spent five times more per inmate on medical care ($10,114) than institutions with the lowest percentage of aging inmates ($1,916). BOP institutions with the highest percentages of aging inmates also spent 14 times more per inmate on medication ($684) than institutions with the lowest percentage ($49).
BOP institutions lack appropriate staffing levels to address the needs of an aging inmate population and provide limited training for this purpose. Aging inmates often require assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing and moving around within the institution. However, institution staff is not responsible for ensuring inmates can accomplish these activities. At many institutions, healthy inmates work as companions to aging inmates; but training and oversight of these inmate companions vary among institutions. We further found that the increasing population of aging inmates has resulted in a need for increased trips outside of institutions to address their medical needs but that institutions lack Correctional Officers to staff these trips and have limited medical staff within institutions. As a result, aging inmates experience delays receiving medical care. For example, using BOP data from one institution, we found that the average wait time for inmates, including aging inmates, to be seen by an outside medical specialist for cardiology, neurosurgery, pulmonology, and urology to be 114 days. In addition, we found that while Social Workers are uniquely qualified to address the release preparation needs of aging inmates, such as aftercare planning and ensuring continuity of medical care, the BOP, which employs over 39,000 people, has only 36 Social Workers nationwide for all of its institutions. Institution staff told us they themselves did not receive enough training to identify the signs of aging.
The physical infrastructure of BOP institutions cannot adequately house aging inmates . Aging inmates often require lower bunks or handicapped-accessible cells, but overcrowding throughout the BOP system limits these types of living spaces. Aging inmates with limited mobility also encounter difficulties navigating institutions without elevators and with narrow sidewalks or uneven terrain. The BOP has not conducted a nationwide review of the accessibility of its institutions since 1996.
The BOP does not provide programming opportunities specifically addressing the needs of aging inmates. BOP programs, which often focus on education and job skills, do not address the needs of aging inmates, many of whom have already obtained an education or do not plan to seek further employment after release. Though BOP institutions can and do design programs, including release preparation programs, to meet the needs of their individual populations, even institutions with high percentages of aging inmates rarely have programs specifically for aging inmates.
Aging inmates commit less misconduct while incarcerated and have a lower rate of re-arrest once released . Aging inmates, comprising 19 percent of the BOP’s inmate population in FY 2013, represented 10 percent of all the inmate misconduct incidents in that year. Also, studies have concluded that post-release arrests decrease as an individual ages, although BOP does not maintain such data. The OIG conducted a sampling of data and found that 15 percent of aging inmates were re-arrested for a new crime within 3 years of release. Based on our analysis, the rate of recidivism of aging inmates is significantly lower than the 41 percent re-arrest rate that the BOP’s research has found for all federal inmates. We further found that most of the aging inmates who were re-arrested already had a documented history of recidivism.
Aging inmates could be viable candidates for early release, resulting in significant cost savings; but BOP policy strictly limits those who can be considered and, as a result, few have been released. Over a year ago, the Department concluded that aging inmates are generally less of a public safety threat and the BOP announced an expanded compassionate release policy to include them as part of the Attorney General’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. However, the Department significantly limited the number of inmates eligible for this expanded release policy by imposing several eligibility requirements, including that inmates be at least age 65, and we found that only two inmates had been released under this new provision. According to institution staff, it is difficult for aging inmates to meet all of the eligibility requirements of the BOP’s new provisions. Our analysis shows that if the BOP reexamined these eligibility requirements its compassionate release program could result in significant cost savings for the BOP, as well as assist in managing the inmate population.
In this report, we make eight recommendations to improve the BOP’s management of its aging inmate population. These recommendations include enhancing BOP oversight and training of inmate companions, studying the impact of the aging inmate population on infrastructure, developing programs to address the needs of aging inmates during their incarceration and as they prepare for release, and revising the requirements that limit the availability of compassionate release for these inmates.
Read the full report here.