Come to our monthly meeting in NYC: WEDNESDAY, February 1, 2017 • 6:00-8:15 pm • 6 to 8 pm (with pizza and soda) • See RAPPCampaign.com/events for details
For more events and information on aging behind bars, check RAPPCampaign.com
1) The population of incarcerated people aged 50 and above continues to rise:
NATIONALLY: From 1995 to 2010 the number of state and federal prisoners aged 55 and over nearly quadrupled to 124,000 (more than 400%), while the prison population as a whole grew by 42%.
IN NEW YORK STATE: The incarcerated population fell by 27% between January 1, 2000 and January 1, 2016. In that same period, the population of women and men over 50 rose more than 98%. By 2016, the state’s total prison population was 52,344; and the number of people aged 50 and over was 10,140—nearly 20% of the current prison population.
2) These elders—many of them grandparents—are not newly incarcerated. Most have been behind bars since they were much younger, even since their teens. But they are not being released, even though it is well documented that criminal behavior decreases sharply with age. Elders pose the lowest risk to public safety if released: While overall recidivism rates hover near 40% in New York State, people over 50 have a new-commitment rate of 5.2%, and for those over 65 it falls to less than 1%.
3) The solution is not mysterious. The New York State parole board denies release to most applicants, including older applicants. Because many of the older people behind bars were convicted of violent crimes, they are the least likely to be released DESPITE the low (in some cases non-existent) chance that they will endanger public safety. RAPP supports the passage of legislation like the S.A.F.E. parole act to correct this situation, but the problem could be corrected even without new laws. We need the parole board to begin releasing people—including elders—who pose no threat to public safety, rather than repeatedly denying release based on the “nature of the offense,” something that will never change. RAPP advocates that the executive and legislative branches of New York State government should direct the parole board to base release decisions on an applicant’s current risk to public safety and readiness for return to the community, rather than on the person’s (often many decades old) conviction.
4) This is a fiscal crisis as well as a crisis of human rights: The cost of incarcerating people over age 50 is 2 to 4 times more than for those under that age. Incarcerating one person aged 50 or older in New York costs the state on average between $120,152 and $240,430 per year. Incarcerating one individual younger than 50 costs, on average, $60,076. As a result, we are squandering resources that could be put to better use to ensure community health and safety.
6) The proportion of elders will continue to balloon as younger incarcerated people with long sentences (including those serving life without parole) age. A full 65% of all incarcerated people in New York State prisons were convicted of violent felonies. Among incarcerated people age 60 and older, 77% were convicted of violent felonies, compared with 62% for those under 60. This means that the goal of releasing aging people in prison affects incarcerated people of all ages—and their families.