Since the passing of “three strikes” and similar “tough on crime” laws there have been far reaching effects that were either not considered or ignored. In essence, habitual criminals, or persons found guilty of three felonies, violent or not, would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. A person who broke into a home twice, then 10 years later, gets caught with 1.3 oz of marijuana is subject to the same penalty as a person who has raped and killed three women. Not only is the law draconian but one of the biggest ramifications is due to the exaggerated sentences the population of the elderly (50+) prisoners is increasing at an alarming rate.
In 1981 there were 8,853 persons 55 or over in a federal prison. In 2010 that number has jumped to 124,900 and it is estimated that in 2030 that number will jump to 400,000. In other words, the elderly prison population is expected in increase by 4,400%. These numbers do not include the 50-54 age group. We now have a significant population of people in jail, who, in most instances, could not commit a crime if they wanted to, are no longer considered a risk to society or themselves and are expensive to take care of and tax payers are footing the bill. It is estimated, that for each elderly inmate released, the state would save $66,294 per year. The aging population has the same aging issues as persons who are not incarcerated however, one must consider that persons who have been incarcerated generally have higher stressors, inadequate health care and are in poorer health than the general public which socially adds 10-15 years of age.
The three strikes laws held no provision for the release of people once it is determined they are no longer a threat to society, and in states that do have a release provision, it is often extremely narrow in scope and the process is difficult to maneuver. The prisons have become [inadequate] nursing homes. With the release of the ACLU’s report, At America's Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly, it is clearly evident that provisions need to be enacted that allow for the release of elderly prisoners and that the old, outdated “tough on crime” sentencing structures need to be reformed.