Date of Graduation

5-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Degree Level

Undergraduate

Department

Sociology and Criminal Justice

Advisor

Engen, Rodney

Reader

Cochran, Robert

Second Reader

Bradley Engen, Mindy

Third Reader

Harriss, Edmund

Abstract

One notable consequence of mass incarceration is the growing population of elderly prison inmates in the U.S. This growth raises questions concerning the causes and implications of such a change, as housing older prisoners places a financial strain on state and federal correctional systems. Because this added cost is largely a result of medical needs, the growing elderly inmate population has raised questions about the impact of incarceration on health. This study investigates the causes of this “graying” of American prisons and its potential effects on correctional and community health. Using National Corrections Reporting Program data from 1990 to 2009, I compare changes in offenders’ age at release (mean age & proportion 55 and older), age at admission, average length of stay, and the proportion of “released” inmates who died in prison as an indicator of correctional health. I find that while each of these measures increased over time, length of stay can explain only a small portion of the increase in release age; most of which is due to an increase in age at admission. Further, while the increase in offender age can account, fully, for the increase in prison deaths over time, length-of-stay is also among the strongest predictors of death in prison, even controlling for age. The results suggests that the incarceration of a growing number of elderly prisoners, coupled with the harmful effects of lengthy prison stays, may have a notable impact on health both within correctional systems and in the communities to which most will return.

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