Mar 05 2010

Program address issues of ‘aging in place’ in prison

Posted at 9:32 pm under AGHE conference 2010,Uncategorized

The U.S. population is graying everywhere, and that includes behind bars.

According to Mary T. Harrison, a psychologist at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, about 10 percent of inmates of state and federal prisons now are 50 or older.

The 50+ population has tripled since the early 1990s, she said, and as a result more inmates are dying in prison. There were 1,630 inmate deaths in 1991. Ten years later that number had almost doubled.

Harrison spoke at at the annual conference of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, held March 4-7 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno. She described a program for older prisoners that she launched at the correctional center in 2004. It’s called the Senior Structured Living Program or True Grit.

The program, which has grown to about 120 members, aims to provide older inmates with dignity and humane care, she said. It was begun in response to older inmates being exploited by younger inmates. Some of the older inmates, especially those in wheelchairs, were having to pay protection money to the younger inmates.

True Grit participants live in one unit of the prison. They participate in a wide variety of structured activities, including pet therapy, arts and crafts and drama productions. They also must do work such as cleaning.

True Grit operates at no cost to taxpayers, she said. It is run entirely by herself and volunteers from outside the prison. These include military veterans who meet with vets who are behind bars. About half of the participants in the program are military vets, she said.

She said the program benefits the prison system by reducing costs of medical care, including the provision of psychotropic drugs. She also said older inmates would often malinger in the infirmary to get out of their cells.

“Now we can’t even get them in [the infirmary],” she said.

She said the program also helps rehabilitate those prisoners who are eligible for eventual release, although about 70 percent of participants in True Grit are in prison for life.

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