Prison makes an awful elderly care facility, yet more prisons are rapidly becoming just that, says the Prison Journalism Project. Thanks to longer prison sentences and decreasing rates of parole, the number of inmates 55 and older has climbed from 48,000 to 160,000 over two decades. In 2019, this age cohort made up 63 percent of state prison deaths for the first time since figures were tracked. The Prison Journalism Project is debuting a special project on the graying prison system, with stories planned from incarcerated writers that chronicle different facets of growing old behind bars. The first in the series discusses the increase of older inmates in Florida prisons. A later story will explore a legal battle for adequate senior health care inside a Virginia prison.
Randy Hansen writes a humorous,dark, essay on his monthslong wait for dentures in California’s San Quentin State Prison. “How is someone who gets released from prison looking like a jack-o’-lantern supposed to get a job?” he asks. Several writers describe the psychological and spiritual challenges of growing old inside. “Those lost years are not coming back,” writes Jayson Hawkins, serving a life sentence in Texas. “I have already buried my 20s, 30s and 40s — golden decades when dreams of a family and career should have been fulfilled.” Dorothy Maraglino of California talks about on homesickness and the profound loneliness that attends aging in prison. “To properly explain to family and friends how badly I need emails, letters and phone calls, I would have to describe how it feels to be trapped in this tiny room with nothing but memories,” she writes. Recidivism rates decrease dramatically as a person ages, to two percent for people between the ages of 50 and 65, and to virtually zero for people older than 65. Many people in those age cohorts will not get another opportunity to live outside prison.