Is Florida's Elderly Prison Population A Problem? A New Report Says Yes

Oct 8, 2014

Credit Florida TaxWatch

About a fifth of Florida’s inmate population is elderly. A new report warns as the state’s aging prison population continues to rise, officials will soon be dealing with a severe strain on Florida’s budget.

The Florida Department of Corrections characterizes elderly prisoners as those over the age of 50. According to a Florida TaxWatch report, the average health care costs for elderly prisoners is about 11,000 dollars a year—nearly four times what it costs for younger inmates.

“Certainly in a prison system of more than 102,000—with more than 20,000 over age 50—there are individuals who don’t pose a danger to Florida’s population, but are expensive to maintain incarcerated,” said TaxWatch’s Chief Research Officer Robert Weissert.

Weissert says since the elderly prison population is expected to increase to 30,000 in the next four years, that will have a negative impact on the state’s budget. So, the watchdog group recommends state officials consider clemency or early release options for non-violent prisoners.

“And, Florida already has a system through the Commissioner on Offender Review—formerly the Parole Commission—to look for this conditional medical release,” he added. “If we examine opportunities to expand that existing program with safeguards that are already in place to ensure public safety, then we can find a way to save money and reinvest those taxpayer dollars into other public safety resources that will really make our streets and communities safer.”

As of June of this year, more than 1,000 prisoners are at least 70-years-old—two of which are 92 and rank at the top of the nation’s oldest prisoners.

The “Florida’s Aging Prisoner Problem” report attributes the steady increase in elderly prisoners to tougher crime laws on the books, like a requirement that inmates complete 85 percent of their sentence and more stringent minimum mandatory sentences. 

“This is something that the Legislature itself is going to have to address,” continued Weissert. “The Department of Corrections and the Commission on Offender Review already look at these kinds of issues. So, it’s going to require statutory changes by the Legislature to implement this kind of measure that will benefit the taxpayers and it’s something they should look at in 2015.”

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.