- Marc Brandl for DRCNet
The ever growing private and state-run prison industry has found a new way to make sure its expansion continues. Proof of this will soon be found in Lexington, Oklahoma, where a geriatric unit, attached to the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, has just been approved for construction by the state Corrections Board in a unanimous vote.
The new prison for the elderly is a first for the state, and when completed will have 250 cells, a 50 bed infirmary with an additional 80 beds for transient housing of sick inmates who need routine medical attention. Construction costs are estimated at $18.7 million with annual operating costs of around $5.8 million. 138 new employees are thought to be needed to staff the new facility.
Currently, of Oklahoma's 14,700 inmates housed in state-run prisons, only about 150 inmates now qualify for the new prison. But according to Corrections board Chairman Michael Roark, in a statement to The Oklahoman, "that [geriatric] population will be growing."
With a steady stream of stories in the media about dangerous conditions in America's prisons, from gang violence to rape, this new facility may well be welcomed by many of those 150 aging prisoners who qualify for a cell, but many questions remain unanswered. How much of a criminal threat are prisoners who need a geriatric facility, especially non-violent offenders? How much more money will it cost taxpayers to house and feed these prisoners who'll inevitably need more health care than younger prisoners? In Oklahoma's regular state-run prisons, the cost is $43 dollars per prisoner per day, or about $16,000 per year. And what percentage of our current prison population is going to need such facilities in the future?
For a more in-depth look at the aging of the prison population keep tuned to the following issues of the Week Online.