It is no secret the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has historically mistreated prisoners with mental illnesses. In June of 2017, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a study that revealed 14% of state and federal prisoners and 26% of jail inmates reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress (SPD). The landmark class action lawsuit against the BOP challenged ADX’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners and accused mental health staff of being “unwilling or unable to detect impending mental health emergencies.” Furthermore, studies are conclusive that the conditions of solitary confinement are enough to cause severe mental illness, stress, trauma, and ultimately suicide.
The First Step Act was enacted in 2018, as an effort to reform federal prisons and sentencing laws, in order to reduce recidivism, decrease the federal inmate population, and maintain public safety. This bipartisan criminal justice bill has brought a renewed consciousness and shed long awaited light on the disproportionate number of black prisoners, many of whom were wrongfully accused, over-indicted, maliciously prosecuted, denied plea agreements by racist judges, and are serving inordinate sentences without the possibility of parole.
Rights for Senior Inmates
At our law office, our most seniored inmate client is 75 years old and we are continually fighting to aid him in maintaining his rights, dignity, health, and association. According to the “Elderly Prison Report” by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are 246,600 aging prisoners nationwide. The four jurisdictions with the highest actual number of prisoners age 50 and older are California (27,680); Texas (27,455); Florida (17,980); and the federal prison system (25,160). These four jurisdictions comprise 43% of the nation’s aging prisoners. Should the justice system continue in the direction it’s going, corrections experts forecast that by 2030, there will be over 400,000 prisoners over the age of 55, amounting to one-third of the entire prison population.
Over time, studies have shown that the cost to incarcerate an aging prisoner far outweighs the cost for younger inmates. The ACLU reports that it costs approximately $34,135.00 per year to house an average age prisoner, compared to the cost of $68,270 to incarcerate a prisoner age 50 or older. The data shows us that releasing aged prisoners will undoubtedly save taxpayers billions of dollars. Looking beyond fiscal considerations, there are also many non-fiscal benefits to releasing aging prisoners who no longer pose a safety risk to the public.
Continued incarceration of aging prisoners does not serve the four traditional goals of punishment in the penal system primarily because many will end up serving far more time than their crimes warrant. This results from the fact that our harsh sentencing policies are often devoid of the concept of proportionality, which is central to retribution. Incapacitation has little or no added value for aging prisoners, as they have an extremely low propensity for recidivism and are often physically weak and mentally challenged. Hence, the goal of deterrence is no longer served. Finally, incarcerating the elderly does not serve to rehabilitate them, especially when they are continually subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
With the enactment of The First Step Act, there is tremendous support for prison reform. Our firm has been on the forefront of this fight, representing clients convicted of federal crimes, sentenced in ADX, Florence (Supermax), and on the state level. We have fought to maintain the constitutional rights of inmates to visit their family, have access to the courts, receive correspondence, and have unfettered access to their attorney. For more information and resources on inmate rights, visit the Law Office of Victoria Broussard online to schedule a complimentary 15 minute consultation, or call (512) 963-7094. Thank you, please stay safe and vigilant.