Editorial: No Geriatric Prisons!

With the advent of Three Strikes and the War on Drugs, women are doing longer time, starting younger and staying inside longer. We all know that prisoners in California are getting younger, but what we sometimes fail to think about is that prisoners are growing older as well.
In California, the number of women prisoners in the state system over the age of 50 increased by 22% between June 1998 and June 2000! This is an extraordinary increase, and there has been no recognition of the increasing needs of older women.
When we visit the prisons, we often see older women in the visiting rooms.
We hear about women with Alzheimer’s who no longer know where they are. For those of us on the outside feeling the effects of aging, we can only imagine what it must be like to go through that on the inside with no end in sight.
In the 1990s, prisoners sued the California Department of Corrections to uphold the California Americans with Disabilities Act, but older prisoners still have a very difficult time getting across the huge yards, standing in long lines and getting needed medications.
Across the country prison officials are coming up with proposals for “geriatric prisons.” These officials argue that older prisoners’ needs can best be met by housing them all together. In CCWP, we are appalled at the idea of warehousing older women prisoners. We believe that the logical solution is to LET THESE WOMEN GO!
Women prisoners in their 70s are not new prisoners. They are women who have already done huge amounts of time and are looking at the rest of their lives inside. The number of people, male or female, who commit violent crimes when they are 60 or older is extremely small.
The prisons are already much too crowded. Let’s not construct more prisons which isolate generations from each other. Rather, let’s begin the process of reducing the prison population by releasing those prisoners who will never commit another crime.
But these women cannot simply be released to the streets with $200 in their pockets and nowhere to go. In every city (and prison) in this country, we see the results of emptying mental institutions with no safety nets for those who are unable to cope. We must not repeat this with our aging sisters inside. Women who have done 20 or more years in prison need medical, social and financial support when they are released. We demand that the state of California fulfill its responsibility to these women when they are released. It will cost the state less money to provide these services without paying enormous custody costs, and it is the only humane thing to do. Let’s make sure they are released!