Last month, The Washington Post ran an interesting story on the Deerfield Correctional Center, a geriatric prison in Virginia. Geriatric incarceration is extremely expensive. According to The Post, “[i]t costs $28,800 annually to house an inmate at Deerfield, compared with the $19,000 it costs at most of the state’s medium-security prisons.”
Several states have rightly experimented with geriatric release programs, but these proposals must be approached with caution. In some cases, often involving sex offenses, prisoners did not become geriatric in prison — rather they entered as geriatrics. Reformers must also realize that there is a moral component in addition to the financial one. As a commenter on The Atlantic Monthly’s website wrote in response to the article: “Often the impact of the offender’s action reverberates in the victim’s life well beyond the time the offender serves. And often the only sense of vindication they feel is knowing that the person who hurt them will not only not be able to hurt anyone else, but will not be free to enjoy their ‘golden years.’”
None of this means that geriatric parole is a bad idea. It simply means that as with any parole program, thoughtful distinctions must be made between those whom society feels are deserving of parole and those whom it feels are not deserving.