CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Correctional facilities strain to help aging inmates

Mar 26, 2024, 11:00 AM | Updated: Apr 15, 2024, 1:41 pm

Correctional facilities...

A men’s maximum-security unit in the new Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Photo credit: Kristin Murphy/Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY – Correctional facilities in Utah are also feeling the pinch of an aging inmate population. Prisons aren’t staffed or designed to be assisted-living centers, and balancing inmate healthcare with security is a complicated issue. The director of Correctional Health Services, Marcus Wisner, says it best.

“Complicated health histories, comorbidities, and long-term care puts a strain on any health care system where you have to practice security and transportation, and this becomes even more complex.”

Not a popular issue

The Department of Corrections works with the University of Utah or other groups to take older inmates to the hospital; however, there’s no simple solution for health care at prisons.

“Prisons were never set up to be assisted living facilities,” Wisner explains, “This is challenging state budgets to develop areas in which they were never set up to facilitate.” It takes state lawmakers to get Wisner the resources he needs, but this issue isn’t top-of-mind for many legislatures.

“They don’t get big wins for this one,” Wisner says, “Spending money on corrections and correctional healthcare is not something I think the community is happy to do.”

Having foresight

Wisner reminds the community that a better-treated inmate transitions to the ‘outside’ much easier. The last thing he wants people to do, is view them like lepers, especially if their age calls for special care.

Until inmates are released, there have been improvements for the state’s aging prisoners. One new prison has a geriatric housing unit, faster med delivery, and even ADA helpers. Wheelchair accessibility has gotten better too. Wisner attributes these changes to foresight, but these features only accomplish so much as more inmates arrive.

“If you continue to increase the population at the rate we’re going, then you can see we’re going to outstrip that resource very quickly.”

Wisner admits there’s already a crunch on public healthcare services, and securing more resources from lawmakers makes things trickier. Until then, Wisner says that education is the best way to show support. The Department of Corrections offers a number of ways to learn more about the problems facing aging residents.

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Correctional facilities strain to help aging inmates