Living Slow Deaths Behind Bars

Scientists have found that most cells in our bodies regenerate every seven to 10 years on average. This includes certain cells in the heart and brain. Can we assume, then, that our moral and emotional compasses are also capable of transforming over time?

As a New York State parole commissioner for 12 years, I evaluated the readiness for release and risk to public safety of more than 75,000 incarcerated people. I saw these changes in people every day.

Yet in spite of those transformations, the number of aging long-termers warehoused in prisons has only increased in recent years.

Two bills in the New York State Legislature could challenge that trend. Both would give people in prison fairer shots at parole. Versions of this legislation have been introduced since 2018 but were never put to a vote. This year, lawmakers should pass them.

Many long-termers languish in cells or in substandard prison infirmaries, or even in so-called long-term care units. With labored breathing, they limp to the mess hall and miss their chance to eat, sink deeper into dementia, fall and get seriously injured, and navigate hearing and vision impairment. At the same time, they are under the supervision of guards who lack the training and often the empathy to properly manage the diminished capacity of many older people to follow often senseless prison rules.

When I was a commissioner, from 1984 to 1996, it was unusual for me to meet a parole candidate over the age of 50. Now there are

Back to top button