Aging Inmates, Part II: Elderly Parolees and Reentry
Imagine you’ve just been released from prison after 20 or 30 years: The last time you were free, personal computers and the Internet were the stuff of science fiction, Jimmy Carter or maybe Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and folks kept in touch with letters and long-distance telephone calls rather than cell phones or Facebook or Skype. Bus and subway systems ran on tokens, and no one would think of paying for groceries or a burger and fries with a credit card. Cash was procured from a bank teller, not a machine. Maybe you’ve kept up with the changes from afar through TV or radio or newspapers, but you’ve never personally sent an e-mail or typed a PIN into an ATM. Not to mention, back then, you were a young, healthy person, who didn’t need to worry too much about medical care or how to get around safely. How are you supposed to support yourself in this seemingly brand-new world, much less reconnect with your family and community?
Last week I blogged about the looming crisis of aging inmates. Of course, another effect of the trend towards lengthier sentences is that even those prisoners who are released or paroled are increasingly likely to be elderly. The Denver Post recently reported on Colorado’s efforts to help parolees like Habe Lawson, 73, reintegrate into their communities (h/t: Think Outside the Cage):
By the time Habe Lawson was released from prison in 2002, he had spent 50 years incarcerated. He was too old to start over but too young to just fade away.
“It can be a living hell living on the streets,” said Lawson, now 73. “You feel alone. At one point, I asked my parole officer to send me back to prison.”
As the population of incarcerated Coloradans ages, elderly parolees such as Lawson are increasingly common, and they have special needs.
To address such needs, the Department of Corrections funnels most of the seniors to parole officers with special skills. … “It’s really become a specialty type of job,” [Colorado deputy director of parole Tim] Hand said, adding that the Denver area has 144 parolees over the age of 60.
Older parolees often have extensive medical problems — some, such as hepatitis C, acquired from a lifetime of risky behavior. In addition to the fact that they’re ex-cons, their age and physical condition limit employment options. They have limited experience with technology such as e-mail and the Internet. Transportation and housing offer additional challenges.