By Frederick H. Lowe
Bill Cosby’s sentence of 3 to 10 years after being convicted on three counts of sexual assault spotlights the growing number of elderly housed in the nation’s state and federal prisons.
Cosby, who is 81 and legally blind, was escorted by police last Monday from the Norristown, Pennsylvania, courthouse to begin serving his prison sentence at SCI Phoenix, a new state prison near Philadelphia, where the staff will assess his physical and medical needs.
“The day has come,” Judge Steven O’Neill told Cosby before sentencing him. “Your time has come.” Cosby was convicted of the 2004 drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a former Temple University women’s basketball coach,
Cosby’s sentence spotlights the nation’s aging prison population. In 2013, there were 131, 500 prisoners aged 55 or older. The nation’s total state-prison population is approximately 1.57 million.
Over the last 25 years, state corrections’ spending grew by 674 percent and the costs are mainly spent on incarcerating the elderly. Those costs are much higher than for younger inmates, according to several studies. “It costs $34, 135 per year to house an average prisoner but it costs $68, 270 per year to house a prisoner 50 and older.
Elderly prisoners face several challenges including hearing loss, dementia, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, and mobility issues. Prisons also must be retrofit spaces to accommodate the elderly, including installing ramps, shower handles and hiring nurses to care for the elderly.
“Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” reports Human Rights Watch. “Yet US corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”