By the Numbers
Thousands of rehabilitated elders are locked up in New Jersey prisons even though research shows many could be released without any risk to public safety.
"We see that people who are in their 60s have a less than 1% chance of committing any new offenses, and people who are 65 and older have a statistical risk of zero of reoffending. That is zero."
Jennifer Sellitti, Director of Training & Communications for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
An analysis of correctional educational studies found that incarcerated people who participate in educational programs are less likely to return to prison.
Recognizing this many states offer people time off their credit for completing educational and/or vocational programs, such as Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and New York. Some states, including, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio, provide people time off their sentence for completing mental health or substance abuse programs.
Under the First Step Act, people incarcerated by the federal government (as opposed to a state system) can “earn 10 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful [program] participation."
From Nothing But Time: Elderly Americans Serving Life Without Parole, The Sentencing Project's 2022 report:
"In 2021, New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported that persons released after serving time for murder had the lowest return-to-prison rate of all crimes. In fact, only three of the 319 people released after serving time for murder were reimprisoned for a new crime in the three-year follow-up period, reflecting a recidivism rate of less than 1%.
Findings from other states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, are similar.
Recidivism is particularly uncommon among older releasees, including those who committed violent crimes.
The period of crime risk is relatively short-lived for most people, but will involve high rates of criminal involvement for a subset, almost all of whom pose no threat to public safety in later adulthood."
Nationally, the majority of incarcerated people aged 50 or older--over 70 percent--reported having a chronic medical condition.
Corrections departments spend more than $8 billion a year collectively on medical costs for people under their care, much of that on aging prisoners, according to a a 2015 analysis by Pew Research Center.
Federal prisons with the greatest share of incarcerated elders spent five times more per person on medical care, including 14 times more on medication costs, than other facilities.
"Current resources invested in health care for aging prisoners account for as much as one quarter of prison health care costs, despite the fact that persons 50 and older are still a relatively small share of the overall prison population...
In Pennsylvania, if people 50 and older who had served at least 20 years of their sentence, the state would save taxpayers more than $70 million dollars--that could go to programs that prevent people from going to prison in the first place."