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Older inmates represent nearly 20 percent of Oklahoma's prison population

Nearly 20 percent of the inmates serving time in Oklahoma prisons are 50 or older. Thirty years ago, the same segment of the prison population represented just 5 percent of the state's inmates.
by Andrew Knittle Published: March 22, 2013

Nearly 20 percent of the inmates serving time in Oklahoma prisons are 50 or older.

Thirty years ago, the same segment of the prison population represented just 5 percent of the state's inmates.

According to the latest annual report released by the state Corrections Department, prisoners 50 or older numbered 4,484 in 2012. In 1980, there were only 85 such inmates serving time in Oklahoma prisons.

The report shows the number of inmates 50 and older is expected to increase to 5,254 by the end of 2013. There are roughly 25,000 inmates serving time in Oklahoma prisons.

State Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said the growth in older inmates is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Massie said long prison sentences and a requirement in Oklahoma that certain offenders serve at least 85 percent of their time behind bars are the two leading factors in the growth of the prison system's 50-and-older segment of the population.

“We expect to see that group continue to grow,” he said. “Life-without-paroles add to that ... we've got 700 or 800 people doing life without parole.”

The latest annual report from the Corrections Department shows that the so-called 85 percent crimes will place a heavy burden on the state agency in the years to come.

Between this year and 2021, those sentenced to 85 percent crimes will cost the prison system an additional $259 million.

“We have a lot of people serving time on 85 percent crimes,” Massie said. “Those people, over time, they turn into your older, elderly inmates.”

Impacts of aging population

Inmate health care expenses, which are only expected to grow as the overall prison population ages behind bars, totaled $59.4 million last year.

In 2000, when the number of inmates 50 or older represented a much small segment of the population, the state prison system spent only $34.2 million for inmate health care expenses.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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