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An inmate at the Mule Creek State Prison sits on his bunk bed in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners August 28, 2007 in Ione, California. A panel of three federal judges is looking to put a cap on the California State Prison population after class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of inmates who complained of being forced to live in classrooms, gymnasiums and other non-traditional prison housing.
It costs about $44,500 per year to house an inmate in the California state prison system, but prison officials are finding that costs are going up as the prison population ages.
As of the end of 2011, there were 6,697 inmates over the age of 60 in California's prisons. Prisons in California and other states like Louisiana are beginning to institute "medical parole" initiatives designed to save costs by releasing some older prisoners early. Advocates of these programs say that older prisoners do not pose a threat to society, and cash strapped and over crowded prisons are hoping to save money. But the cost liability may just be switched to programs like Medicare, which pays at least some medical costs for the elderly.
So are prisons merely looking for someone else to pay for prisoners' medical care? Should taxpayers continue to provide healthcare for inmates sentenced to life behind bars?
Jamie Fellner, Senior Adviser, US Division, Human Rights Watch
Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman, Federal Receiver’s Office
Don Specter, director, Prison Law Office, a California based nonprofit law firm that advocates for prisoners’ rights