Terrell Carter remembers one prisoner in particular. The pair have been seeking a reduced sentence so that they can eventually apply for parole. But in the process, Carter said, his cellmate became so debilitated by dementia that the man could no longer work properly to complete the paperwork.
After a few months, the inmate was incapacitated, lying in bed with his arms over his head, calling for help, Carter said. Carter, a volunteer in the hospice ward of Phoenix State Correctional Institution in University City, Pennsylvania, said his fellow inmates died in prison because they were mentally damaged and unable to apply for forgiveness. “At the end of the day, he didn’t know the crime he was accused of,” Carter said
in the October 2021 issue Northwestern University Law ReviewCarter, and an associate professor of law at Drexel University Rachel Lopezthink The current sentencing structure often locks people up and throws away keys. As a former commissioner of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, Lopez is particularly concerned about the number of older adults incarcerated. “It’s all part of the legacy of the ‘tough on crime’ era,” she said.
A Pew Charitable Trust survey found that the number of inmates aged 55 or older 280% increase From 1999 to 2016.In the 1980s and 1990s, the possibility of three strikes and mandatory life imprisonment without parole expanded, and Many of these laws are still on the books today. As the number of older prisoners has surged, so have dementia cases. An article by López in the June 2020 issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter predicted that, between 70,341 and 211,020 By 2030, an estimated 400,000 incarcerated older adults will develop dementia. Alzheimer’s disease was the most common diagnosis, but dementias involving Lewy bodies, the vascular system and Parkinson’s disease were also on the list.
jail can also Potential for accelerated aging and development of disease, according to an article published in the journal Health and Justice in January 2022.study author Blythe StockResearchers at the University of Saskatchewan said the high risk was due to the challenges of prison life and the inmates’ pre-prison experience. Prisoners are often marginalized members of society with less access to health care, poorer diets, alcohol or substance abuse problems, mental health problems and potential traumatic brain injury – all factors that increase the risk of developing the disease. possibility. “Once you’re behind bars, a lack of stimulation and an overall poor quality of life can magnify the problem,” Storick said.
Prisoners with dementia are also vulnerable to abuse.Their erratic behavior and inability to follow instructions has irritated other inmates and staff in an already stressful and sometimes violent environment, say Tina Muskieco-author of the book Aging Behind Prison Walls: A Trauma and Resilience Study.
Her 2012 study published in Gerontologist found that people with dementia more and more vulnerable for “victim”. They are more likely to be reprimanded if they become aggressive with employees or fail to line up. “They don’t follow prison rules anymore, so for staff who are usually not trained to work with people with dementia, they seem to be showing it,” Maschi said. Also, according to the study, they may be victims of sexual assault by other inmates because they are unable to defend themselves.
With strict sentencing practices still in place, the problem could get worse.The ACLU predicts that within a decade, prisoners 55 and older will make up One-third of America’s incarcerated populationPrisons do not have the resources to care for these highly vulnerable populations, López said. There may be some relatively available short-term solutions, though. Older prisoners are often kept together, but a high-level structured living program that includes daily stimuli such as puzzles, knitting and cognitive exercises may help reduce the risk of later dementia among older prisoners.
True Grit is a program at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center described in a review Published in the December 2019 issue of Health and Justice. It teaches inmates over the age of 55 skills such as making latch rugs, crocheting, painting, puzzle making and beading, and emphasizes the importance of physical activity. The program has been shown to improve inmates’ quality of life, reduce substance use and behavioral problems, and enhance overall health and well-being.
Compassionate publishing is another largely underutilized tool, according to experts. Also known as “senior parole,” it is currently used at the end of a patient’s life. But for a program to ease the burden on the elderly in the prison system, it must be used before inmates are too sick to reintegrate into society.Ronald Addie, author of the book, says once prisoners get too far Older prisoners: The crisis in American corrections, it is much more difficult for them to find a “foothold” outside the prison, and nursing homes are less likely to admit felons. Nonetheless, a 2018 report by the Families Against Mandatory Minimum Requirements (FAMM) found that, The program is rarely used And, in many states, it presents a disturbing “many hurdles” for aging inmates to get out.
When prisoners do develop dementia, at least basic training for prison staff to deal with the disease is required. “Correctional officers and those who come into direct contact with older inmates on a day-to-day basis need to understand their vulnerability to other inmates and their inability to understand commands,” Aday said.
Going forward, dementia wards in prisons may be needed to house inmates with cognitive problems.One such memory ward Open in 2019 at Devens Federal Medical Center in Massachusetts. Facility staff are specially trained to care for people with dementia.
But building dementia wards in prisons draws attention to a bigger problem: Prisons don’t have the proper equipment to accommodate these patients, because that was never their intention. “Prisons are all about rehabilitation,” Aday said. “The purpose of correctional institutions is to ‘correct people’ so they can go out to work.” He added that in the process, we’ve lost our target, so the 10-year sentence has tripled, and the life without parole Incarceration is all too common. If we don’t get a handle on our imbalanced sentencing structure, we’ll never really be able to solve this problem, Aday said.
Carter, 53, was lucky that he succeeded “with the skin of his teeth”. After graduating from Villanova University and spending years caring for older inmates, he was able to commute his sentence to life for what he says was aggravated robbery at age 22. He was released last July after three years in a high-security prison.
Still, Carter was haunted by the people he left behind, especially in the hospice. At the end of their lives, most of them don’t even realize where they are, let alone what got them there, he said. “If you don’t even know you’re in prison, you have to wonder what kind of punishment it is,” Carter said.