MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 30, 2013

Don’t change laws for older inmates


— Oklahoma’s prisons are becoming overcrowded with inmates in their 50s.

Nearly 20 percent of Oklahoma inmates are 50 or older — compared with 5 percent 30 years ago.

As that age group continues to grow, the costs of housing the older inmates will continue to rise.

A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections says longer prison sentences and a requirement in Oklahoma that certain offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence in prison are the two leading factors in the rise of 50-plus prisoners.

We wonder if  the rise in the number of 50-plus prisoners parallels the number of 50-plus United States citizens.

If baby boomers are causing the average age of Americans to rise, it stands to reason that baby boomers are causing the average age of prisoners to rise, too.

The cost of housing criminals is a real concern. Oklahoma warehouses more prisoners and more women prisoners per capita than practically any other state.

Rising costs should not be a factor in determining whether to release an inmate onto society.

Longer sentences and the 85 percent rule were deemed necessary because they keep violent criminals off the streets longer and can act as a deterrent.

Age is just a number. The most important factor in an aging prison population should be whether these inmates can be rehabilitated or are they likely to recommit crimes upon release.

We have long been in favor of first-time drug users being given the chance at rehabilitation.

That would be a good step in helping to curb the rising number of prisoners.