As the overall population ages, the prison population is aging too. The proportion of older adults in U.S. prisons nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016, and is projected to increase to more than 30 percent by 2030. Because of structural racism in the criminal legal system, people of color—particularly Black Americans—have been and continue to be more likely to be incarcerated and receive harsher sentences. A few months ago, The New York Times published an opinion piece detailing the challenges of aging in prisons, jails, and other settings, also noting that, upon release, older adults face challenges accessing housing. Finding accessible, affordable housing is just one of the many unique challenges older adults face upon leaving prison or jail.
As the overall population ages, the prison population is aging too. The proportion of older adults in U.S. prisons nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016, and is projected to increase to more than 30 percent by 2030.
When older adults leave prison or jail, they often have chronic health conditions as well as physical and mental disabilities that inhibit activities of daily living. When they reenter the community, they are at risk of not meeting their basic needs due to gaps in public benefit and social services systems, as well as discrimination associated with their formerly incarcerated status. The gaps in these systems include the health care, income, and housing benefits and services that many older adults rely on to age with dignity and independence.
In 2021, Justice in Aging launched its Strategic Initiative to Advance Equity, which aims to center equity in our advocacy on behalf of low-income older adults, with a primary emphasis on race equity. Shortly thereafter, we started our reentry project under this Initiative, designed to leverage our expertise to equip advocates with resources to better support older adults reentering their communities and push for changes in law and policy that better meet the needs of these older adults.
Throughout 2023, we published issue briefs on reentry that address key areas where advocates play a critical role in connecting older adults leaving incarceration to the health care, economic security benefits, and housing that they need to live sustainably in the community. Our series of short issue briefs and a webinar summarizing the information in the three briefs can be accessed below.
- Fair Housing Protections for Formerly Incarcerated and Justice-Involved Older Adults
- Medicare Special Enrollment Period for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals: What Advocates Need to Know
- Connecting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Benefits
- Webinar: Developing Issues for Formerly Incarcerated Older Adults—A Review
These issue briefs take a deeper look at issues we introduced in our Reducing Barriers to Reentry for Older Adults Leaving Incarceration brief released in 2022.
As we head into a new year, Justice in Aging remains committed to our mission and advancing equity for all older adults. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you to advocate for laws and policies that allow older adults leaving incarceration to transition smoothly into the community with equitable access to the public benefits they need to meet their basic needs.