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Mass. Prison Population Among Oldest in Nation, and Getting Older

December 29, 2018

By Jonathan Ng

Boston Herald

Massachusetts’ prison population is one of the oldest in the nation, and the number of elderly inmates is growing.

According to data from the state Department of Correction, as of Jan. 1, 2018, there were 909 men aged 60 and over who are imprisoned. There are 22 women aged 60 and over incarcerated. The average age of an inmate in Massachusetts state prisons is 42 years old -- and the oldest inmate is 95 years old, according to the DOC.

Charges against a guard accused of beating an 86-year-old inmate at MCI Souza-Baranowski in Shirley have put a focus on the system’s problems with aging prisoners.

The Pew Research Center, in a report earlier this year, found that out of 44 states, Massachusetts had the highest inmate percentage of people 55 and over in fiscal 2015. Nevada came in second, followed by West Virginia, Oregon, Wyoming and California.

Massachusetts inmates 60 and over make up roughly 11 percent of the total incarcerated population of 8,852, as of last January, according to the DOC.

In a March 2018 report, the DOC said that the overall prison population continued to decline for the sixth consecutive year. Nationally, between 2015 and 2016, 31 states saw decreases in their state’s total jurisdiction population, the report notes.

But the elderly group has consistently grown every year nationally and here in Massachusetts. From 1999 to 2016, people 55 or older in state and federal prisons increased 280 percent, according to data from Pew Research. During the same period, the prison population of younger adults only grew by 3 percent.

Pew researchers said in its report that the growth in numbers of inmates 55 or older is due the nature of the crimes they committed, and lengthy sentences they received.

“Many of today’s older inmates were convicted of serious, violent felonies in their younger years. Between 1993 and 2013, two-thirds of people 55 or older in state prison were sentenced for a violent crime, such as assault, rape, or murder,” researchers wrote.

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