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Posted at 8:39 PM ET, 09/13/2010

Virginia's elderly prisoners: Set them free

By Mimi Verdonk

By Mimi Verdonk
Silver Spring


If you can’t feed yourself, can you hold a gun? If you’re confined to a wheelchair, can you hijack a car? If you’re too weak to get out of bed, are you a legitimate threat to society? The answer to all these questions is an obvious no, and yet 5,000 Virginia inmates, bedridden and decrepit, are being kept in prisons [“Part prison, part nursing home,” Metro, Sept. 8].

Deerfield Correctional Center, which houses 400 of these elderly criminals, is an extension of Death Row. Old prisoners wait out their last days, months and years there, hoping to be paroled but expecting to die in prison, the only home many of them have had for many years. The odds are against them; few eligible inmates have won release.
Meanwhile, the price of housing elderly prisoners, many of whom suffer from dementia and diabetes, is almost $10,000 more than the cost of housing the average inmate. Our tax dollars are spent on men and women who could just as easily be taken care of by family members or nursing homes. It’s the job of prisons to reform convicts, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially an old dog who is going blind and has heart problems.

The best solution is to set the wheelchair-bound inmates free. Murder, robbery and arson are the last thing on these prisoners’ minds. Soon-to-be released inmate Ray Tatum says he just wants a “McDonald’s cheeseburger.” My guess is that other inmates, when they envision being released, want the same thing.

By Mimi Verdonk  | September 13, 2010; 8:39 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Va. Politics, Virginia, crime  
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Comments

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Posted by: juanluis14 | September 14, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Would the argument for setting them free be the same if they were Nazis convicted of war crime murders? Life without parole is just that. It isn't 'life without parole until you become physically or mentally feeble'. The cost of caring for these prisoners isn't any less if they are released. And what would the response be if one of these released prisoners did indeed commit another felony?

Posted by: buckeye3118 | September 14, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. They don't need the Big Mac.

Posted by: soapy | September 14, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Some humanity and common sense needs to come into play. The same folks that call for the death penalty (suppossedly, falsely, to save money on incarceration) are the same ones saying to keep these non-threats behind bars.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 14, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Jail should be exclusively to segregate those that pose a threat to society. For punishment, we have to come up with a deterrent that's effective but doesn't cost so much. We keep way too many locked up.

Posted by: PhrederickW | September 14, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

If they are confined to a wheel chair or to a bed they probably would get better daily care in prison. They wouldn't last long in a nursing home with no money or support from family. Some of America's nursing homes are like miniature death camps disguised as nursing facilities. You can kill them off with urinary tract infections and poor diet.

As for their cost of care. Most would be on medicaid anyway. No job, no pension, no insurance, no long term care insurance.
Where do you think nursing homes get their money from people with no resources? The taxpayer.
Nursing homes also have a problem with patients(inmates) who fight among themselves. Old people may not be able to rob a bank but they can still punch you in the nose or stab you with a fork. What do nursing homes do with violent residents? They are stuck with them.

Posted by: glenmayne | September 14, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I really can't see where paroling these inmates is going to solve anything. Ten to one none of them has a family who cares what happens to them, so they would still be on the state dole.

Posted by: mbrumble | September 15, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

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