- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is unable to provide a safe, cost-efficient and secure environment for elderly inmates due to a lack of resources, staff and the proper health facilities to accommodate the rapidly growing population, according to a government watchdog report.

As a result, prison inmates 50 years old and older are not receiving the proper care from the bureau, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in an online video Wednesday.

Additionally, inmates who are at least 65 years old and eligible to be freed from prison early under the bureau’s revised compassionate release policy have been overlooked by staff, according to a 72-page report on the impact of the aging inmate population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

That policy was revised in August 2013, but so far only two inmates have been released under the revised provisions, according to the report.

Inmates 50 years old and older are a rapidly growing part of the prison population and have increased by 25 percent since 2009 — from 24,857 to 30,962, according to the report. During the same period, the population of inmates 49 and younger decreased by about 1 percent, the report states. Aging inmates cost an average of $24,538 to incarcerate, which is about 8 percent more than the $22,676 it costs the bureau to incarcerate younger inmates, according to the report.

That variation between those percentages has contributed to the “the crisis of escalating costs and overcrowding in the federal prison system,” Mr. Horowitz said.

“Many people may not be aware that the federal inmate population is aging rapidly,” he said. “In a recent five-year period, it grew by more than 25 percent while the rest of the federal prison population actually shrank.”

And those aging inmates have needs that must be met, he said. They require lower bunks and sometimes handicapped-accessible cells, but unfortunately overcrowding in the prisons means that those type of spaces are limited, according to the report.

That report also notes that aging inmates are increasingly likely to become victims and less likely to receive assistance with their daily needs — such as getting dressed and moving around the prisons due to a lack of trained staff.

“At some institutions, healthy inmates work as companions to aging inmates, but training and oversight varies, increasing the risk that aging inmates will be victimized or will not receive the assistance they need,” the report states. “In addition, we found that while Social Workers are uniquely qualified to address the release preparation needs of aging inmates, such as planning aftercare and ensuring continuity of medical care, there are only 36 Social Workers working with nearly 165,000 sentenced inmates at [Bureau of Prisons]-managed facilities nationwide.”

The Department of Justice Inspector General has pointed to the prison system as among the top management challenges facing the department for years, Mr. Horowitz said.

In his report, he notes that the bureau has not conducted a nationwide review of the accessibility of its prison institutions since 1996.

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