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Report: fewer prisoners, but more older people locked up in NY

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Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 2:13 PM EST
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ALBANY, New York (WWNY) - The number of people locked up in New York’s prisons has dropped dramatically over the last 13 years, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report Thursday.

The state’s prison population declined by 50 percent between March 2008 and March, 2021.

However, the population of prisoners over the age of 50 grew slightly, according to DiNapoli’s report.

The change was minimal, from 7,511 older prisoners in 2008 to 7,586 in 2021. But because the overall prison population dropped so dramatically, older prisoners - as a percentage of the total prison population - doubled.

Nearly one in four prisoners in March, 2021 was 50 or older. Nearly 8 percent were 60 or older.

Why more older prisoners? According to a statement from DiNapoli’s office, there was a marked increase in older people imprisoned for a “new offense or parole violation” between 2008 and 2021.

The overall decline in prison population was caused by several things, including reforms to the state’s notoriously tough Rockefeller drug laws and early release of some prisoners during the COVID epidemic.

Although overall health care costs are down, because there are fewer prisoners, the cost of health care per prisoner has increased to $7,380 a year, a jump of nearly one-third since 2008.

“Policymakers should examine opportunities to reduce the population of incarcerated individuals 50 and over where public safety would not be compromised,” DiNapoli said.

A group which advocates for the release of older prisoners responded to DiNapoli’s report.

“The New York State Comptroller’s report highlights what so many incarcerated New Yorkers and their families already know. There is a growing crisis of aging in New York State prisons.,” Jose Saldana, Director of the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign said in a statement.

“Even while the overall prison population decreases, the incarceration of older adults continues to increase, robbing communities across New York State of elders who can be safely released, mentor young people, interrupt violence, provide peer-counseling to people with substance use disorder, and promote safety.

“We continue our calls for the New York State legislature to pass the Elder Parole and the Fair & Timely Parole bills and for Governor Hochul to grant clemency to effectively address this crisis.”

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