Senior Citizens Behind Bars: Challenges for the Criminal Justice System.
This book is a compilation of scholarly research articles that present a longitudinal look at older prisoners from commitment through release. Contributors include those with backgrounds in criminal justice, social work, mental health and gerontology. The subtitle of the work, "Challenges for the Criminal Justice System," sets the tone very well. Most issues that are minimized, denied or disregarded eventually come to the forefront in a manner that demands attention. Such is the case with senior citizens in the criminal justice system. Most criminal justice professionals are no longer surprised to hear the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. However, even the most shock-resistant professional might cringe upon discovering the U.S. perhaps incarcerates a greater number of older offenders than all other countries combined. Kerbs and Jolley remind us that older people will continue to be overrepresented in the system for the next 35 years. In this cohort are those arrested for the first time at 55 years or older; those who received a long sentence at an earlier age and are now 55 years or older; and career criminals who continue to recidivate.
In a holistic approach to the issues concerning older inmates, the authors contribute on expected topics, such as health issues, women's concerns and prisoner's rights; but they also include lesser-discussed topics. Here, the nuggets of genius are worth searching for. One example is family parole. Built on a model originally developed for youths, family-based parole brings together older offenders and members of their families, neighborhoods and communities to encourage pro-social relationships. While the book focuses heavily on gaps in services, it also addresses areas of strength. The opportunities to use empirically verified data on age-related desistance provide a framework for sentencing reform, improvements in prison-based programs, and routines and better release programs with community and systemic support.
In the concluding chapter, Kerbs and Jolley delineate the need for further research. They propose a new generation of studies that will identify ways the criminal justice system can address the problems posed by aging offender populations. These include risk evaluations, sentencing reforms and innovative programs like elder courts. Partnering between prison systems and academics is needed to develop best practice solutions. Proper funding for both research and implementation is a worthy investment as elderly offenders continue to increase in numbers with both evident and not-so-evident needs.
This book is particularly important to policymakers, criminal justice administrators, medical and mental health staff, students and researchers. While up to date and generally complete, little attention is given to jail concerns. Provided the route to prison is through the jails for all elders--excluding those with life sentences --this is a significant oversight. There are some areas in this text where the material has to be read and reread to gain a comprehensive understanding; however, this should not deter the interested reader. Qualitative by design, the research is replete with graphs, tables and charts to codify the information.
Alice Haskins is chief correction officer of the Ontario County Jail in Canandaigua, N. Y.