Addressing the aging crisis in U.S. criminal justice health care

Brie A. Williams, James S. Goodwin, Jacques Baillargeon, Cyrus Ahalt, Louise C. Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


The U.S. criminal justice population is aging at a significantly more rapid rate than the overall U.S. population, with the population of older adults in prison having more than tripled since 1990. This increase is at the root of a prison healthcare crisis that is spilling into communities and public healthcare systems because nearly 95% of prisoners are eventually released. The graying prison population is also straining state and local budgets. In prison, older prisoners cost approximately three times as much as younger prisoners to incarcerate, largely because of health-care costs. In the community, older former prisoners present the least risk of recidivism yet are vulnerable to serious and costly social and medical challenges such as housing instability, poor employability, multiple chronic health conditions, and health-related mortality; however older current and former prisoners are largely ignored in the current geriatrics evidence base. Knowledge about the health, functional, and cognitive status of older prisoners is limited, with even less known about risk factors for long-term poor health outcomes during and after incarceration. This article provides an overview of aging in the criminal justice system. It then describes how geriatric models of care could be adapted to address the mounting older prisoner healthcare crisis and identifies areas where additional research is needed to explore prison-specific models of care for older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1150-1156
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Aging
  • Health disparities
  • Prisoner

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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