A reader writes:
Oh what a great idea, to release prisoners with life sentences, just as they are getting old and sick, when they have no marketable skills, no health insurance but Medicaid, no place to live, no real-life experience with today's economy and culture, and quite likely no family to provide a support system, and no track record in getting along peacefully with other people, especially if they were incarcerated for several decades for heinously anti-social crimes.
What a guaranteed way to increase the homeless population, and throw the care of a new class of elderly indigent men, no longer violent maybe, but quite likely with mental-health, substance abuse, and anger-management issues, onto churches and other private social services. Just exactly as humane and forward-looking as throwing a whole generation of mental patients onto the streets under Reagan. How is "freedom" in that sense -- freedom to be set adrift in a complex, competitive society at a point in the life cycle when even the most privileged start to become dependent on one kind or other of safety net -- any kind of benefit either to these human beings or to society at large?
Jamelle Bouie may be identifying a solution in search of a problem.
He excerpts two relevant statistics: The number of prisoners in Virginia over 50 and the number of prisoners nationally 55 or older. I’m 57 and, although I’ve never committed a crime, I certainly feel fit enough that, if that was my “career”, I could still be doing this. Let’s assume that the age of 60 represents a dividing line, after which those individuals who aren’t sociopaths generally won’t commit more crimes. (This assumes, of course, that such individuals have other means of supporting themselves, which is questionable.) What is the number of prisoners who are over 60 and who aren’t considered to be dangerous? These excerpts don’t say.
It’s also worth noting that the figure given for number of prisoners nationally who are 55 or older - 76,600 - works out to an average of about 1,500 per state. If you eliminate those who are in the 55-59 group, and those over 59 who are too dangerous to release, you probably have an average of under 1,000 per state. Frankly, I don’t see that as a problem of national proportions.
Finally, they say that older prisoners have a calming effect on a prison population in general. If that’s true, then it may not be in the state’s best interests to push older prisoners out the door prematurely.
While I can see that for those convicted of violent crimes, I think there should be different criteria for white collar criminals, such as Bernie Madoff. White collar crime is much, much less "a game for the young." Indeed, I suspect that hardly any white collar crimes (except maybe the occasional computer hacking scheme) are due to men in their teens and early twenties - just much less opportunity that young. And, more importantly, since no physical abilities are required, the capability to commit further damage lasts a lot longer. So perhaps those criminals ought to be held until a rather later age.