January 27, 2012

II. Why the Aging Prison Population?

As of June 30, 2010 the oldest male inmate in Florida was 90 and was admitted to the Department of Corrections aged 82 with a 15-year sentence. The oldest female inmate was 91 and was admitted at age 87 to serve a 31-year sentence. The ages of the ten oldest male inmates range from 86 to 90 … seven of the ten are serving a sentence of 50 years or more…. The ages of the ten oldest female inmates range from 76 to 91; the average age is 79.2 and three of the ten are serving a sentence of 50 years or more.
—State of Florida Correctional Medical Authority, “2009-2010 Annual Report and Report on Aging Inmates”

The extraordinary size of the US jail and prison population—almost 2.3 million, the world’s largest[26]—reflects the inevitable consequences of more than three decades of “tough on crime” policies. State and federal legislators adopted laws that increased the likelihood and length of prison sentences, including by establishing mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws, and by increasing the number of crimes punished with life and life-without-parole sentences. In addition to these “front end” policy changes, the legislators sought to increase the amount of time prisoners would serve in prison before release, for example by establishing truth-in-sentencing conditions that require 85 percent or more of a prison sentence be served before the inmate becomes eligible for release, and by making some crimes ineligible for parole.[27] Harsh parole revocation policies were also adopted that returned high percentages of released offenders to prison for technical parole violations.

Samuel Edison, 53 years old, was 35 when imprisoned in Colorado for aggravated robbery. If he has to serve his full 50 year sentence, he will be 85 when released.[28]

Sheldon Thompson entered prison in Michigan in 1962 with a life without parole sentence, after conviction for a homicide crime he committed when he was 17 years old. He is currently 67 years old, and will die in prison.[29]

These sentencing and release policies help explain why the US prison population has grown six-fold since 1980, despite declining crime rates. They also help explain the rapidly growing number and proportion of older prisoners. Although we cannot pinpoint the precise contribution of different factors to the aging prison population,[30] several factors are clearly involved:

  1. Long sentences. Prisoners with long sentences are more likely to grow old behind bars than prisoners serving short sentences. A significant percentage of prisoners age 55 or older were incarcerated with long sentences.
  2. Life sentences. The imposition of life sentences, a particularly extreme form of long sentence, has increased.
  3. Older age of offenders. More people are entering prison for crimes committed after age 55 than in years past.
  4. Early release. Correctional and parole officials often have little legal authority to release old and infirm prisoners before their sentence expires and such authority as exists is exercised infrequently. This will be the subject of a separate Human Rights Watch investigation and will not be covered further in this report.

Longer Time in Prison, Especially for Violent Crimes

One reason for the growth in the elderly inmate population is the long time served in prison by a growing number of prisoners, reflecting both lengthy sentences imposed for a large variety of crimes in recent decades and diminished opportunities for release prior to expiration of the sentence.

A considerable number of older prisoners entered in their younger years and have aged behind bars, as shown in Table 2. For example, 15.2 percent of prisoners who were between the ages of 61 to 70 in 2009 had entered prison at or under the age of 40. Of those who were between the ages of 71 and 80, 17.8 percent had entered at or under the age of 50.

Table 2: Age at Admission and Current Age among State Prisoners, 2009

Source: National Corrections Reporting Program. Note: Based on 24 states providing year-end prison population data for 2009. Age at admission based on admission with new sentences; prisoners returned from parole because of technical parole violations are not included.

The long sentences some prisoners are serving are shown in Table 3. Among state prisoners in 2009, 13.5 percent were serving sentences between 10 and 20 years long, another 11.2 percent were serving sentences longer than 20 years, and 9.6 percent were serving some form of a life sentence.[31] Among prisoners who were age 51 or older, 40.6 percent were serving sentences of more than 20 years or life sentences. As prisoners with long sentences “stack up” in the prison population, it is not surprising that the number of older prisoners is growing and that older prisoners are more likely to be serving longer sentences than younger prisoners. As we see in Table 3, 20 percent of prisoners between the ages of 61 and 70 are serving sentences of more than 20 years (not including life sentences), compared to 11.4 percent of prisoners age 31 to 40.

Table 3: State Prisoners by Age and Sentence, 2009

Source: National Corrections Reporting Program. Note: Based on 24 states reporting year-end prison population data for 2009.

We can further appreciate why the number of aging prisoners is growing by looking at the ages of men and women entering prison with new sentences and the length of those sentences. As shown in Table 4, among state prisoners in 2009, 17 percent (7,929) who entered prison when they were age 51 or older have sentences ranging from more than 20 years to life.[32] Of those who entered when they were between the ages of 41 and 50 years, 18.1 percent (21,148) have sentences ranging from longer than 20 years to life. It is safe to assume many of those prisoners will be well into their seventies and older before they are released, if they are released at all.[33]

Table 4: State Prisoners by Age at Admission and Sentence, 2009

Source: National Corrections Reporting Program. Note: Based on 24 reporting states reporting year-end prison population data for 2009. Numbers based on admissions with new sentences and do not include returns to prison for technical parole violations.

Prison sentences tend to be longest for persons convicted of violent offenses, and many older prisoners were convicted of such crimes (see subsection below). But mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders can also lead to long prison terms that will increase the aging prison population. For example, Weldon Angelos was sentenced at age 25 to 55 years in federal prison for selling marijuana, money laundering, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.[34] Barbara Scrivner was 29 when she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role as a minor participant in a methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution conspiracy.[35]

Sentences which run consecutively can also add up to lengthy prison stays that will carry the individual into his later years. Atiba Parker, for example, was convicted in Mississippi of two counts of sale of cocaine and one count of possession of cocaine when he was 29. He received a total of three sentences that run consecutively for a total of 42 years. Twenty-nine when he was sentenced, his projected release date is 2048, when he will be 71.[36]

“Three strikes” and other habitual offender laws that create lengthy mandatory sentences for repeat offenders convicted of nonviolent as well as violent offenses also contribute to the number of aging men and women behind bars.[37] In California, the average third-strike offender enters prison at age 36, with a minimum of 25 years to serve before the possibility of release.[38] According to an advocacy group seeking reform of California’s three strikes law, there are approximately 4,431 third-strikers who have received at least 25-years-to-life for nonviolent offenses.[39] Leandro Andrade is one. At 37 he was convicted of stealing $150 worth of videotapes from two different stores. These convictions counted as his “third” strike and he received a sentence of two consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences. The earliest he can be released will be when he is 87 years old.[40]

Sometimes sentences are technically for a term of years, but in practice they will amount to life sentences. For example, Bonnie Frampton, now 76, entered prison when she was 65. Convicted of conspiracy for murder, she has a 120-year sentence.[41] Constance Wooster, age 61, was convicted of child abuse resulting in death. She entered prison when she was 53 with a 48-year sentence.[42]

Sentences for Violent Crimes

Persons convicted of violent crimes, including violent sex offenses, typically receive the longest prison sentences and for that reason they “stack up” in the prison population, compared to persons serving short sentences. They are thus more likely to be growing older behind bars, fueling the aging prison population.

As shown in Table 5, half of all state prisoners at year-end 2009 had been convicted of violent crimes. A higher percentage of prisoners age 55 and older (65.3 percent) were serving sentences for violent crimes than younger offenders (49.6 percent), reflecting the stacking phenomenon.

Table 5: State Prisoners by Offense and Age, 2009

Source: National Corrections Reporting Program. Note: Based on 24 states reporting year-end prison population data for 2009.

The number of men and women who are already 55 years or older when entering prison for violent crimes also augurs continued growth in the number of older prisoners. As shown in Table 6, about one-quarter (26 percent) of persons entering state prison with new sentences in 2009 had been convicted of violent crimes, including 25.8 percent of those entering at age 55 or older.

Table 6: New Admissions to State Prison by Offense and Age, 2009

Source: National Corrections Reporting Program. Note: Based on data from 30 states reporting prison admissions for 2009. Numbers based on admissions with new sentences and do not include returns to prison for technical parole violations.

Ted Coombs, age 66, entered prison in Washington state when he was 56, convicted of attempted second degree murder. He had been a postman all his life and this is his first time in prison. His sentence runs until 2020, when he will be 75. His spinal cord was severed from a bullet that was shot during the incident that led to his conviction; he is paralyzed below the chest and uses a wheelchair. [43]

Persons convicted of violent crimes on average spend the longest time in prison both because they receive longer sentences and because they serve a greater portion of their sentence before being released. For example, in 2009, the average maximum sentence for state offenders for all offenses was 60 months, and the average time served before release for all offenses was 29 months; that is, the time served was less than half the maximum sentence.[44] But for murder the average maximum sentence was 232 months and average time served before release was 172 months; the time served was nearly three-quarters of the maximum sentence.[45]

It is notable, too, that the percentage of sentences state inmates convicted of violent offenses serve before release has increased markedly since the 1990s. In 1993 they served an average of 40 percent of the maximum sentence; by 2009 they served an average of 61.7 percent.[46]

More detailed data from individual states also illuminates the number of older prisoners serving lengthy sentences, including for violent offenses:

  • In New York, 28 percent of those currently age 60 or over have been in prison continuously for 20 or more years. Among inmates in that age group, 7.1 percent have between 10 and 19 more years to serve before the earliest possible release date and 5.2 percent have 20 or more years to serve. There are 22 prisoners who are currently 70 years or older who have 20 or more years to serve before their earliest possible release date. That is, they will be at least 90 years old before being eligible for release. Of the inmates age 60 or over, 77 percent are incarcerated for violent felonies, compared to 62 percent for inmates under 60.[47]
  • In Pennsylvania, an analysis of prisoners in 2002 revealed that those 50 or over were far more likely than younger inmates to have been sent to prison for rape and murder; these crimes account for 36.6 percent of the elderly inmate population but only 13.1 percent of the younger inmate population. Not surprisingly, the older inmates are serving longer sentences on average: 66 percent of older inmates were serving a maximum sentence of 10 years or more while 58 percent of younger inmates were serving maximum sentences of less than 10 years. Twenty-one percent of older inmates were serving life sentences, compared to only 8.2 percent of younger inmates.[48]
  • In North Carolina, approximately 56 percent of the inmates age 50 or older are serving sentences for violent or sex crimes. Sixty-two percent of those age 50 or older are serving sentences of 10 years or longer and 28 percent are serving life sentences.[49]
  • Among the 16 states in the Southern Legislative Conference, all but one reported that at least 25 percent of their elderly inmates had been convicted of “violent or sex-based crimes.”[50] At least 30 percent of the elderly inmates in each of the states are serving sentences of at least 20 years or more, including life sentences.[51]

Life Sentences

We’re stuck with people who aren’t going to get out.
—Senior official, Colorado Department of Corrections, March 22, 2011

Life sentences are a particularly extreme form of long sentence that almost by definition can carry prisoners into old age, if not beyond. Since the 1980s, the use of life sentences, including life with no possibility of release (life without parole)[52] has increased markedly.

According to The Sentencing Project, the number of offenders serving life sentences in state prisons quadrupled between 1984 and 2008, increasing from 34,000 to 140,610.[53] In the federal system, the growth in the number of prisoners with life sentences grew even more markedly. From 410 federal lifers in 1998, the number grew to 4,222 in 2009, a ten-fold increase.[54]

Barring changes in patterns of parole release and grants of clemency, many of those serving life sentences in state prisons will grow old and die in prison. Those serving life without parole will certainly do so. As shown above in Table 3, 75,576 men and women—almost one in ten (9.6 percent) of the state prison population in 2009—were serving some form of a life sentence.[55] Of these sentences, 63,759 were life sentences and 11,817 were life without parole or life plus additional years (which is the functional equivalent of life without parole). In some states the proportion of prisoners with life sentences is far greater: in Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York, at least one in six prison inmates is serving a life sentence.[56] Among persons entering state prison in 2009 with new sentences, 3,471 had some form of a life sentence.[57]

For lifers who have the possibility of release, the amount of time that must be served before becoming eligible for release varies by jurisdiction. Nationally, however, the median is 25 years.[58] Eligibility for release is not the same as actual release; many years may intervene between the two and, in some cases, the lifer will never be released. Lifers entering prison in 1997 could expect to serve an average of 29 years before release, time during which they could age considerably.[59] Serving decades in prison can carry a person from middle age to old age. For example, as shown in Table 4 above, 2,102 state prisoners in 2009 were between the ages of 51 and 60 when they entered prison with life sentences (not including life without parole or life plus additional years). They thus entered prison with a slim likelihood that they would be released before their late seventies or eighties.[60]

Regardless of theoretical eligibility, it can be difficult as a practical matter for persons serving a life sentence to be released on parole.[61] Parole boards and governors are heavily influenced by public opinion and the desire to avoid a political backlash from the release of someone convicted, for example, of a notorious violent crime.[62]Parole boards may require violent offenders to remain in prison for years past their parole eligibility date, no matter how remorseful or rehabilitated they are or how impeccable their prison record. In some cases, parole boards will simply never agree to parole, and if they do, their decision may be reversed by the governor.[63]

Although most persons in prison serving life have the possibility of release, a significant number have been sentenced to life without parole (LWOP). As can be seen from data in Table 3 above, as of 2009 at least 11,817 state prisoners were serving sentences of life without parole or life plus additional years; that is, they have been sentenced to life behind bars until they die.[64] They will be spending many years in prison as they pass from youth and middle age to old age, and eventually death.

The frequency of life without parole varies markedly among states:

In Louisiana, a state in which all life sentences lack the possibility of parole, one of every nine (10.9 percent) people in prison is serving an LWOP sentence. Pennsylvania, another LWOP-only state, incarcerates 9.4 percent of its prison population for the rest of their lives. Nationally, there are nine states in which more than 5 percent of persons in prison are serving an LWOP sentence. On the other end of the spectrum, 15 states incarcerate less than 1 percent of person in prison for LWOP.[65]

Leonard Hudson entered prison in New York in 2002 at age 68 convicted of murder. He received a 20-years-to-life sentence, which means he will be 88 before he is eligible to be considered for release. He is currently housed in a special prison unit for incarcerated men with dementia and other severe cognitive impairments.[66]

William Conrad, 80 years old, entered prison In Mississippi when he was 73 with a life sentence for murder.[67]

As of 2009, there were 4,222 federal prisoners serving life sentences. Because the federal system does not have parole, federal prisoners with life sentences have no prospect of release in their lifetime.

Among persons serving life without the possibility of parole in the United States are persons sentenced for crimes committed before the age of 18. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are approximately 2,600 of these youth offenders in the United States who will spend the rest of their lives in prison.[68]

Entering Prison at an Older Age

The number of older persons who are arrested has been increasing, perhaps as a natural concomitant of the overall aging of the US population.[69] The increasing number of older arrestees has translated into an increasing number of men and women entering prison as new court commitments at age 55 and older.[70] Persons 55 years of age or older still constitute a small percentage of new court commitments—3.5 percent in 2009—but because a significant proportion come in with long sentences they may have a marked impact on the aging prison population.

As shown in Table 7, the number of persons entering state prison as new court commitments at the age of 55 years or older grew 109 percent between 1995 and 2009. In the same period, the number of all new commitments increased by 9.7 percent. The variations between individual years are significant and suggest caution in interpreting the data, but the overall trend is nonetheless clear. [71]

Table 7: New Court Commitments to State Prison by Age, 1995-2009

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, annual tables from National Corrections Reporting Program Series, 1995-2009

Data from individual states further illustrates the growing proportion of inmates entering prison for crimes committed at age 50 or above:

  • In Florida, the proportion of new prison admissions who were age 50 or over rose from 4.7 percent in fiscal year 2000/2001 to 9.3 percent in fiscal year 2009/10.[72]
  • In Missouri, prison admissions of offenders age 50 or over increased 214 percent between 1999 and 2009.[73]
  • In New York, the proportion of offenders age 55 or older among new court commitments increased from 1.3 percent in 1996 to 3.3 percent in 2010.[74]
  • In Ohio, in 2010, 1,815 men and women age 50 or over entered prison (including 41 who were 70 or over); in 2000 the number was only 743. The proportion of new court commitments who were 50 years of age or older increased from 3.7 percent in 2000 to 7.8 percent in 2010.[75]
  • In Virginia, offenders 50 or over accounted for 7.8 percent of new court commitments in 2007, rising from 3.6 percent in 1990.[76]

Figure 3: Growth in New Court Commitments to State Prison, by Age, 1995-2009

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, annual tables from National Corrections Reporting Program, 1995-2009

Federal Prisoners

Like state prisoners, federal prisoners are “graying.”[77] As shown in Table 8, 25,160 federal prisoners—13.6 percent of the federal prison population—at year-end in 2009 consisted of men and women age 51 and older.[78]

The number of older federal prisoners is growing at a faster rate than the total federal prison population. Table 8 shows that between 2000 and 2009, the number of prisoners age 51 and older grew from 14,275 to 25,160, a 76 percent increase. In contrast, during those years the total federal prison population grew from 129,329 to 185,273, an increase of 43.3 percent.[79]

The number of federal prisoners already in their sixties and above when they enter prison has also been increasing at a faster rate than total admissions. Between 2000 and 2009, the annual number of persons entering federal prison at age 61 or over grew by 50 percent, although the total number of new admissions in that period increased by only 14.5 percent.[80]

Table 8: Federal Prisoners by Age, 2000 to 2009

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Justice Statistics Program. Note: Based on year-end numbers.  Includes only prisoners committed to federal prison for violations of federal criminal law; commitments from the District of Columbia Superior Court are excluded.

Table 9: Admissions to Federal Prison by Age at Admission and Sentence, 2009

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Justice Statistics Program. Note: Includes only prisoners committed to federal prison in 2009 for violations of federal criminal law; commitments from the District of Columbia Superior Court are excluded.

The long sentences being served by many federal prisoners suggest the number of older federal prisoners will continue growing. Among federal prisoners in 2009, 7,771 are serving sentences ranging from 30 years to life. Another 12,612 have sentences of 20 to 30 years.[81]

The age and sentence lengths of new federal prisoners also illuminates why the federal prison population will continue to age. As shown in Table 9, although the preponderance (89.8 percent) of federal prisoners who entered prison in 2009 had sentences of 10 years or less, 7,203 of the entering prisoners (26.6 percent) had sentences ranging from 10 years to over 40 years and 298 entered with life sentences.[82] Among those who entered federal prison at age 51 or older, 658 (10.3 percent) had sentences ranging from 10 years to over 40 years, not including life sentences. Obviously, many of them will grow much older before released, if they do not die in prison. Others entered federal prison in 2009 before they had reached the age of 50, but because of the length of their sentences will also not leave prison until their sixties, seventies, or beyond.

The federal system eliminated parole in 1987. As noted above, all of the 4,222 federal prisoners with life sentences in 2009 can be expected to age and eventually die in prison.

[26] Lauren E. Glaze, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Correctional Population in the United States, 2010,” December 2011, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus10.pdf (accessed January 9, 2012), Table 1.

[27]As a result of such changes, the percentage of a sentence actually served behind bars today is considerably greater than it was previously. For example, in 1993, only 25 percent of the median sentence for all offenses was served before release; in 2009, 44 percent of the median sentence was served before release. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “First releases from State prison, 1993” and “First releases from State prison, 2009,” part of the National Corrections Reporting Program series, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2056 (accessed November 4, 2011).

[28]Human Rights Watch interview with Samuel Edison (pseudonym), Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, Cañon City, Colorado, March 22, 2011.

[29]Data regarding Sheldon Thompson (pseudonym) provided to Human Rights Watch by Michigan Department of Corrections in 2004, and cross-checked against Michigan’s inmate locator on December 8, 2011.

[30] The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice is in the midst of a project to answer that question; its report will be published sometime during 2012.

[31]Percentages are based on 24 states reporting year-end population data to the NCRP for 2009. The states provided sentence lengths for 82.5 percent of all reported prisoners. In the calculations by Human Rights Watch using the NCRP data, when prisoners were sentenced to a range of years, the maximum sentence is used. Where prisoners were serving multiple sentences for different charges, the longest of the sentences was used.

[32] Data on admissions with new sentences (excluding technical parole revocations) and length of sentence based on 24 states reporting year-end population data to the National Corrections Reporting Program for 2009. Where prisoners were sentenced to a range of years, the maximum sentence is used. Where prisoners were serving multiple sentences for different charges, the longest of the sentences was used. States participating in the National Corrections Reporting Program in 2009 provided sentence lengths for 85.4 percent of state prisoners they reported for 2009.

[33] Table A.5 in Appendix: Additional Tables below provides data on the length of sentences received by persons entering state prison in 2009 with new sentences (excluding technical parole revocations).

[34]Families Against Mandatory Minimums, “Federal Profiles: Weldon Angelos,” http://www.famm.org/ProfilesofInjustice/FederalProfiles/WeldonAngelos.aspx (accessed November 29, 2011). FAMM’s website provides profiles of many other cases.

[35]Families Against Mandatory Minimums, “Federal Profiles: Barbara Scrivner,” http://www.famm.org/ProfilesofInjustice/FederalProfiles/BarbaraScrivner.aspx (accessed November 29, 2011).

[36]Families against Mandatory Minimums, “Federal Profiles: Atiba Parker,” http://www.famm.org/ProfilesofInjustice/StateProfiles/AtibaParker.aspx (accessed November 29, 2011).

[37]About half of states have some form of “three strikes” legislation. None have used them as extensively as California, which also has the most punitive of the strikes laws. Under California’s three strikes law, if the offender had two prior serious or violent felony convictions, the mandatory sentence for a third conviction, even for a nonviolent felony, is 25 years to life.

[38]Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project, “Aging Behind Bars: ‘Three Strikes’ Seven Years Later,” August 2001, http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/publication.cfm?publication_id=73 (accessed November 29, 2011).

[39]Families to Amend California's Three Strikes, “About 3 Strikes,” http://facts1.live.radicaldesigns.org/section.php?id=55 (accessed November 29, 2011).

[40]Lockyer v. Andrade, United States Supreme Court, 538 U.S. 63 (2003).

[41]Human Rights Watch interview with Bonnie Frampton (pseudonym), Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, Colorado, March 21, 2011.

[42]Human Rights Watch interview with Constance Wooster (pseudonym), Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, Colorado, March 21, 2011.

[43]Human Rights Watch interview with Ted Coombs (pseudonym), Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Connell, Washington, August 8, 2011.

[44]Figures on release reflect time to first release. Prisoners may be released initially, then returned to prison for violating parole and then released again after serving more time in prison. Sentence length based on the maximum sentence imposed; if offender received multiple sentences, the longest sentence is used. Data excludes sentences to life without parole, life with additional years, life, or death. The data was calculated using numbers from Table 9 in the 1993 through 2009 reports of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Time served in state prison, by offense, release type, sex, and race, 1993-2009” National Corrections Reporting Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/dtdata.cfm (accessed November 1, 2011).

[45]Ibid.

[46]For some crimes the increase was even greater. For example, the percentage of sentences served for murder has increased from 42 percent in 1993 to 75 percent in 2009. See Figure A.1 in Appendix: Additional Tables. Time until release reflects time to first release. Prisoners may be released initially, then returned to prison for violating parole and then released again after serving more time in prison. Sentence length is based on the maximum sentence imposed; if an offender received multiple sentences, the longest sentence is used. Data excludes sentences to life without parole, life with additional years, life, or death. The data was calculated using numbers from Table 9 in the 1993 through 2009 reports of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Time served in state prison, by offense, release type, sex, and race, 1993-2009” National Corrections Reporting Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/dtdata.cfm (accessed November 1, 2011).

[47]Data provided to Human Rights Watch during interview with Brian Fisher, commissioner, New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Albany, New York, August 31, 2011.

[48]Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, “Elderly Inmate Profile,” December 10, 2003, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/document/916134/elderlyinmateprofile_pdf?qid=84214885&rank=1 (accessed November 29, 2011).

[49] Charlotte Price, North Carolina Department of Correction, “Aging Inmate Population Study,” May 2006, http://www.doc.state.nc.us/dop/Aging%20Study%20Report.pdf (accessed November 29, 2011), p. 4.

[50] Williams, “The Aging Inmate Population,” p. 28.

[51]Ibid.

[52] “Life without parole” is the most common terminology for sentences of life without possibility of release, but other terms include “natural life,” “true life,” or “whole life.”

[53] Ashley Nellis and Ryan S. King, The Sentencing Project, “No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America,” July 2009, http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/publications/inc_noexitseptember2009.pdf (accessed November 29, 2011), p. 7.

[54]Data regarding federal prisoners comes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Federal Justice Statistics Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.fjsrc (accessed July 7, 2011). This online statistical tool provides public access to data regarding federal prisoners sorted according to a number of variables, including year, age, and offense. The data here includes only persons committed to federal prison upon conviction of violating federal law (not including persons committed from theDistrict of Columbia Superior Court). It does not include persons held for immigration law violations pending deportation.

[55] Based on the 24 states who reported year-end population data for 2009 to the National Corrections Reporting Program.

[56]Nellis and King, “No Exit,” p. 7.

[57]Table A.5 in Appendix: Additional Tables. Data comes from 30 states reporting 2009 admissions data to the National Corrections Reporting Program.

[58]Nellis and King, “No Exit,” p. 6. The range of time before eligibility for release varies from 10 years in Utah to 40 and 50 years in Colorado and Kansas, respectively.

[59]Marc Mauer, Ryan D. King, and Malcolm C. Young, The Sentencing Project, “The Meaning of ‘Life’: Long Prisons Sentences in Context,” May 2004, http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_meaningoflife.pdf (accessed November 29, 2011), p. 12. This is an increase from the estimated 21.2-year time to be served by lifers who entered prison in 1991.

[60]Numbers on prisoners by age at admission and sentence length based on prison population data provided by 24 reporting states to the NCRP in 2009. See Methodology section, above.

[61]See for example, Nellis and King, “No Exit”; and Mauer, King, and Young, “The Meaning of ‘Life’.”

[62]See for example, Adam Liptak, “To More Inmates, Life Term Means Dying Behind Bars,” The New York Times, October 2, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/national/02life.web.html (accessed December 29, 2011). See The American Law Institute, “Model Penal Code: Sentencing, Tentative Draft No. 2,” March 25, 2011, for a severe criticism of the exercise by parole boards of their release discretion.

[63]In four states, governors may review the decision-making by the parole board. A study of parole decision-making in California found that the likelihood of a lifer convicted of murder being granted parole by the parole board and not having the decision reversed by the Governor was slim: about a 6 percent probability. Robert Weisberg, Debbie A. Mukamal, and Jordan D. Segall, Stanford Criminal Justice Center, “Life in Limbo: An Examination of Parole Release for Prisoners Serving Life Sentences with the Possibility of Parole in California,” September 2011, http://blogs.law.stanford.edu/newsfeed/files/2011/09/SCJC_report_Parole_Release_for_Lifers.pdf (accessed November 29, 2011), p.4.

[64]Data based on population and sentences by 24 states to the National Corrections Reporting Program for 2009. The total number of prisoners serving life sentences among all 50 states would be higher.

[65]Nellis and King, “No Exit,” p. 10.

[66] Information provided to Human Rights Watch in email correspondence with Paula Butler, deputy superintendent health services, Fishkill Correctional Facility, New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, November 2, 2011.

[67]Human Rights Watch interview with William Conrad (pseudonym), Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, Mississippi, June 15, 2011.

[68]Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2012), United States chapter, http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012-united-states; Human Rights Watch, “State Distribution of Youth Offenders Serving Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP),” October 2, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/10/02/state-distribution-juvenileoffenders-serving-juvenile-life-without-parole.

[69]In 2010, for example, 426,680 persons age 55 or older were arrested, accounting for 4.2 percent of all arrests; a decade earlier 360,350 people that age were arrested, accounting for 2.6 percent of all arrests. Howard Snyder and Joseph Mulako-Wangota, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Arrests by Age in the U.S., 2009 and 2000,” and “Arrests by Age in the U.S., 1993,” Arrest Data Analysis Tool, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=datool&surl=/arrests/index.cfm (accessed November 4, 2011). In 1993, people 55 and over accounted for 2.4 percent of arrests.

[70]People are admitted to prison for various reasons. Persons who enter as “new court commitments” have been convicted and sentenced by a court, usually to a term of more than one year. The category also includes probation violators and persons with a split sentence to incarceration followed by court-ordered probation or parole. People can also enter prison when they are being returned there for violating the conditions of parole (technical parole violators) or for new crimes committed while on conditional release. States are not consistent in how they classify admissions. According to our analysis of NCRP admissions data for 2009, about 61 percent of admissions to prison are new court commitments. See Table A.6 in Appendix: Additional Tables, below.

[72]State of Florida Correctional Medical Authority, “2009-2010 Annual Report and Report on Aging Inmates,” December 2010, http://www.doh.state.fl.us/cma/reports/AnnualRpt2009-10FINAL.pdf (accessed December 13, 2011), p. 51.

[73]Missouri Department of Corrections, “Aging Offenders Management Team Report,” September 2009, p. 5.

[74]Unpublished data obtained through Freedom of Information Act request by Human Rights Watch in email correspondence with New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, June 13, 2011.

[75]Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, “Calendar Year 2010 Commitment Report,” and “Calendar Year 2000 Commitment Report,” http://www.drc.ohio.gov/web/Reports/reports12.asp (accessed July 12, 2011).

[76]Virginia Department of Corrections and Parole Board, “A Balanced Approach: Report on Geriatric Offenders,” 2008, p. 3.

[77]In 2010, there were 209, 771 prisoners under the jurisdiction of federal authorities, more than in California and Texas, which are the largest state prison systems. Guerino, Harrison, and Sabol, “Prisoners in 2010, Appendix Table 2.

[78]The percentage of the federal prison population that was age 51 or older increased from 11 percent in 2000 to 13.6 percent in 2009. Data regarding federal prisoners was obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Federal Justice Statistics Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/fjsrc (accessed July 7, 2011). This online statistical tool provides public access to data regarding federal prisoners sorted according to a number of variables, including year, age, sentence, and offense. The data here includes only persons committed to federal prison upon conviction of violating federal law (not including persons committed from the District of Columbia Superior Court). It does not include persons held for immigration law violations pending deportation.

[79]Data regarding federal prisoners come from the BJS Federal Justice Statistics Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.fjsrc.

[80]See Table A.7 in Appendix: Additional Tables below.

[81] See Table A.8 in Appendix: Additional Tables below.

[82]Data regarding federal prisoners was obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Federal Justice Statistics Program, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/fjsrc.