As the American senior citizen population continues to increase, in part due to the Baby Boomer Generation, we face an interesting conundrum – should we let elderly criminals out of jail? According to a WSJ report, by 2030, a third of America’s prisoners will be age 50 or older. People feel passionately about both sides of the argument. On the one hand, it seems cruel to keep people in their 80s and 90s locked up, especially at the cost of the taxpayers. On the other hand, people fear for public safety and the consequences of putting a cap on prison sentences.
Paying for Elderly Incarceration
It’s no secret that Americans pay a lot of money to incarcerate the elderly. Around $70,000 is spent each year on every prisoner that is 50 years or older. This is a lot of money to spend keeping men and women who are old enough to be grandparents or great grandparents off of the street and out of trouble.
Many of these criminals are serving life sentence for drug related crimes committed in their youth. So to some extent, it doesn’t seem worth it to keep old people busted for selling or buying heroin or marijuana 30 years ago in jail. Do these people really deserve to be in prison for that long? Proponents of releasing elderly criminals once they reach a certain age would claim that not many elderly people partake in drug dealing and violence. In general, they claim that public safety is not put at risk by releasing these criminals.
Does Age Matter?
However, people who want criminals to serve their full sentences argue that age should not matter. What would be the purpose of a life sentence if everyone was guaranteed release at, say, age 65? Furthermore, there are some criminals that never reform. These criminals, regardless of age, become repeat offenders once they are released from jail. And the fact is that crime committed by senior citizens is on the rise.
Getting old doesn’t automatically turn you into a saint. Consider Ray and Faye Copeland, a 76-year-old husband and 69-year-old wife charged with five counts of first degree murder. Despite their age, these people certainly posed a threat to society. Releasing all criminals at a certain age can pose a risk to public safety in the case of some criminals. People are in jail and given specific jail sentences for a reason. Also, in order for justice to be served, many believe that criminals need to serve their full sentences.
Clearly, there are arguments to be made for both sides. On one hand, it does cost a lot of money to keep people who probably pose little threat to society in jail until they die. However, there is some risk in releasing criminals just because they reach a certain age – both in terms of public safety and making sure that justice is served. What do you think? If you’ve got an opinion on the matter, leave us a comment below!