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Reforms for elder criminal justice in Texas?

In keeping with our series discussing criminal justice reforms for certain demographics, today’s post explores the proposal recently advanced by a federal judge concerning criminal sentencing of the elderly.

The judge published his views after concurring in the dismissal of a recent criminal appeal filed on behalf of a 46-year-old defendant. A lower court had sentenced the man to 50 years in prison for an alleged sex crime against a minor. That would make the man 96 years old at the time of his release.

Observing the high cost of imprisoning the elderly, judge questioned the wisdom of imposing life sentences upon such mid-life defendants. Specifically, the average cost of imprisoning an elderly inmate ranges from $60,000 to $70,000 a year. True, that figure may be slightly less after deducting for federal assistance that a freed prisoner might qualify for, such as Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits. However, a freed prisoner might be equally likely to get a job and contribute to those very programs through payroll taxes.

In addition to cost considerations, the judge questioned the deterrent effect of life sentences upon the elderly. According to statistics cited by the judge, only 1.1 percent of perpetrators of crimes against children are between 70 and 75 years old, and only 1.3 percent are between 60 and 69. Given the small likelihood of recidivism, the judge proposed substituting long sentences in place of life sentences. In this particular case, the judge would have sentenced the man to 30 years instead of 50. That would make the man 76 years old upon release.

What this post illustrates is that the policies surrounding criminal sentencing are often in flux. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be knowledgeable of current sentencing guidelines, as well as any mitigating factors and current reform policies that may include the court to impose a lighter sentence.

Source: ABA Journal, “Posner Advises Judges to Consider Cost of Imprisoning Elderly When Imposing a ‘Superlong Sentence,” Debra Cassens Weiss, Dec. 20, 2012