AGING BEHIND BARS SERIES
I have written hefore about the aging population in American prisons and jails, due in large part to the draconian sentencing policies of the courts, federal, state, and local. As a result these places seem destined to become nursing homes surrounded by razor wire.
Angola prison in Louisiana, for instance, boasts that some 90 percent of its population will die there. The prison has managed to equip itself with a hospice, and trained inmates to attend to a convict’s last days. Burl Cain, the warden, is backed up by a phalanx of Christian fundamentalist preachers who freely roam the 18,000 acre former slave plantation recruiting inmates to be preachers. The clergy instruct prisoners their only way out is through redemption made possible by the acceptance of Jesus Christ. When an elderly inmate, knowing his end was near, sought to be win release so as to die in the so-called “free world,” the parole board refused. The procedure is to go to your death in the Christian way–from cell to hospice to a prison cemetery where your grave will be dug by the inmates who will mark your bruial with gospel hymns
The travesty at Angola is held up as a model for the nation and Cain celebrated by the media as a new corrections messiah. Elsewhere,old,sick people,piled into these living tombs by the courts, stand in line for hours to get an aspirin; arthritic old women are made to climb into upper bunk beds.Parapalegic men are denied canes, which are ruled to be weapons, and instead must crawl to the toilets.People are locked in solitary for years. Mentally ill convicts who act out in the general population are put into solitary because they howl and scream in public. Locked down, they go truly mad. Old sex offenders can be released into the hands of friends or family. but often noone wants them, so they are released to the county jail, reindicted, and sent back to prison.
The American public is up in arms about CIA jails in far away places. But it could care less about American prisons. Now a new report by the Sentencing Project in Washington adds to the growing body of information about prisons here at home. No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America contains, among other things, the first nationwide collection of life sentence data documenting race, ethnicity and gender, and reveals “overwhelming racial and ethnic disparities in the allocation of life sentences”: 66% of all persons sentenced to life are non-white, and 77% of juveniles serving life sentences are non-white.
The the report’s key findings:
140,610 individuals are serving life sentences, representing one of every 11 people (9.5%) in prison. Twenty-nine percent (41,095) of the individuals serving life sentences have no possibility of parole.
The number of individuals serving life without parole sentences increased by22% from 33,633 to 41,095 between 2003 and 2008. This is nearly four times the rate of growth of the parole-eligible life sentenced population.
In five states—Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York—at least 1 in 6 people in prison are serving a life sentence.
The highest proportion of life sentences relative to the prison population is in California, where 20% of the prison population is serving a life sentence, up from 18.1% in 2003. Among these 34,164 life sentences, 10.8% are life without parole.
Racial and ethnic minorities serve a disproportionate share of life sentences. Two-thirds of people with life sentences (66.4%) are nonwhite, reaching as high as 83.7% of the life sentenced population in the state of New York.
There are 6,807 juveniles serving life sentences; 1,755, or 25.8%, of whom are serving sentences of life without parole.
Seventy-seven percent of juveniles sentenced to life are youth of color.
There are 4,694 women and girls serving life sentences, 28.4% of females sentenced to life do not have the possibility of parole.