In recent years, the largest and fastest growing number of incarcerated inmates over the age of 50 in United States’ prisons has continued to shape the demographic of prison systems throughout the country. The perpetual explosion of elderly persons in the general American population, and the repercussions of the “tough-on-crime” laws during the 1980s and 1990s, have led to a current increase of approximately 675,000 arrests of elderly persons every year in the United States. Experts assert that this is not attributable to an elderly crime wave, but rather to several factors that will continue to put more elderly people behind bars and continue to keep these persons behind bars longer.
The SLC began closely examining this issue during the 1990s. From information gathered from state corrections department through 1997, the SLC published a report, The Aging Inmate Population, on the topic in 1998, noting that many states “have found that the increase in the geriatric inmate population has been far greater than anticipated.” As an update to the 1998 report, this SLC Regional Resource explores the increase of the elderly prison population in Southern states and the nuances of this development, focusing particularly on changes since 1997. It examines policies and procedures employed by each state, as well as facilities and programs that are geared toward accommodating this growing population. Also, this report addresses the concerns of corrections officials regarding the future of the elderly inmate population within their states. Information was gathered through polling corrections departments in the 16 SLC member states. In addition, information was amassed from existing research projects and studies.