Help For Older Ex-Prisoners

No state has a program to help older ex-offenders re-integrate into society, according to the Justice Department, the Urban Institute, and other analysts. In fact, notes the Urban Institute, many states don't have any re-entry program for those of any age coming out of prison.

More than a half-million prisoners, most having served short sentences, are released each year. The National Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that some 8,900 prisoners over age 55 were paroled in 1999 - up from 5,200 in 1990.

In some states, the law requires inmates to be paroled once they reach a certain age, even though they may not have finished their sentences. Most states have hardly taken notice of the growing numbers. What started as a trickle of older offenders released on parole now is a trend.

In Alabama, though, a new law recognizes the issue. Cases involving long-term sentences for nonviolent offenses must be reconsidered - and go back to the sentencing judge for possible resentencing. Although, experts say these prisoners pose little threat to society, they take up prison space and public dollars.

For many prisoners, the transition back to society is difficult. They must face rapid technological change (from using ATMs to a cellphone), new ways of finding jobs, and often a lack of family and friends. That's especially true for older inmates.

"They've been living a life culturally, and routinely so different, and the world has passed them by, even as they think they're going home," says Dr. John Erwin, author of "The Felon" and an expert on prisoner reentry issues.

Giving assistance to "long timers" can help them restore their lives, and society benefits. When these prisoners have paid their debt to society, society owes them some help to become contributing members.

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