In an AP
wirereport out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a
hard of hearing 107-year-old man barricaded himself into a room with a weapon.
The police dispatched a SWAT squad. One of the cops, Sgt. David DeFoor, who shot
and killed centenarian Monroe Isadore, had been placed on administrative leave
but not charged with a crime. The evidence was that the elderly Mr. Isadore had
a memory problem and was in a confused state as one would expect of someone over
a hundred years old.
Monroe Isadore, 107 years old
The death of Mr. Isadore
may be a peek into the bleak future for the elderly in a law enforcement system
that is a cross between Robocop and the Terminator. What if instead of being
shot, Monroe Isadore had been sent to prison? That is the kind of question a
novelist asks in a case like this one. Mr. Isadore’s death started to wondering
about the old people who are in prison.
We are living longer and
there is evidence that becoming older is not necessarily becoming wiser. What
does it mean for the elderly to live in an age of quasi-militarized police
forces armed to the teeth with armored carriers adapted from the battlefield?
There may be more cases like this, if America’s lack of coherent policies to
fund the care of the elderly and mentally illed means, by default, the SWAT team
being dispatched to put the old man out of his misery.
2005 aired an NPR program on America’s elderly prison population. She
interviewed 93-year-old John Rodriquez. He wasn’t the oldest prisoner she found
in an American prison. That honor went to 99-year-old Ivory Lee Johnson (New
Jersey), followed by 98-year-old Burt Jackson (Utah), and 95-year-old Michael
These men had a record for
crime and a record for longevity. I suspect that Monroe Isadore will go down in
the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest man ever to be shot by a police
officer. Had he survived the shooting, it would have surely captured the oldest
man behind bars.
Reginald Davies, 78 years old
America has a knack for establishing the
world record for imprisoning or shooting old men. Britain comes into the
competition a miserable distance behind with a 78-year-old sex offender named
Reginald Davis whose criminal record dates from 1949.
In the case of crime, most
reports include photographs of young men who have been arrested or who are
While most crimes
historically have been committed by the young, as the population in most places
ages, the prospect of the elderly breaking the law and being imprisoned has been
increasing. In the 2005 NPR
on elderly prisoners in America, it was noted that “California’s central
repository for elderly inmates looks like a cross between a nursing home and a
hospital. . .There are no guards, no guns, no locked doors, just nurses in
pastel uniforms and inmates in hospital gowns wandering freely in wheelchairs.
Many have thinning gray hair and old tattoos long-faded under wrinkled
The number of
prisoners over the
age of 55 is the fastest growing population in federal and state prisons. It is
much worst in the American southern states (where Mr. Monroe Isadore was killed)
where the average elderly prisoner population increased by a staggering 145%
between 1997 and 2007.* This is during a period where crime has generally
decreased. Another factor that will over time convert prisons into long term
nursing facilities is the huge number of prisoners serving life sentences. The
ACLU in 2012 reported that elderly inmates have climbed 1300% since the
The trend of more elderly
in prison runs counter to the general trend of declining U.S. prison population.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice
indicates a downward trend overall in the last three years ending in
“that the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners aged 65 or older grew
at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010. The
number of sentenced prisoners aged 55 or older grew at six times the rate of the
overall prison population between 1995 and 2010.”
Human Rights Watch makes
the point that prisons were never to serve as geriatric wards. They were built
to house young, healthy prisoners. Times have changed and prisons are
increasingly facing the problems of a nursing home but without the facilities,
staff and training programs to deal with the problems of the elderly. The
prisons, like the police, don’t seem to be dealing with the special issues that
effect the elderly who are “frail, have mobility, hearing, and vision
impairments, and are suffering chronic, disabling, and terminal illnesses or
diminishing cognitive capacities.”
To look after the needs of
the elderly increases the expense of maintaining and running prisons. With the
privatization of America’s prison system, where the corporation is cutting costs
to return a profit to shareholders, this seems an unlikely model for financing
the special needs of old prisoners. For example, would the corporate prison
company fund a budget for eye glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, walkers,
canes, pacemakers, hip replacement, false teeth and other age-related expenses?
To give you an idea of the difference between the cost of incarceration by aged,
York NGO Committee on Ageing has found that “In general a
younger prisoner costs about $22,000 per year while an older person can cost as
much as $65,000 per year.”
The numbers of
the elderly in
American prisons will continue to explode over the next seventeen years. “By the
year 2030, there will be upward of 400,000 elderly prisoners — nearly a third of
the projected total penal population, said Inimai Chettiar, a director at the
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the co-author of the ACLU
It is easy to see how the
treatment of elderly prisoners can become a human rights issue. I’d also
encourage you to read the ACLUreport
which is an comprehensive review of the problems raised by the growing
elderly prisoner population in the United States. The large numbers of all
prisoners, including the elderly are the consequence of what the ACLU calls the
“tough on crime” and “war on drugs” policies of the 1980s and 1990s.
Here’s a video on the root
causes behind the elderly prisoner problem.
As for Monroe Isadore, he
may be the first in a long line of old men who are killed by SWAT teams. That is
one sorry way to save the cost of incarceration. When a country demands other
countries respect the human rights of their citizens, that country might start
by showing respect for the dignity of its own elderly citizens.
If you are looking to
break into the novel writing game, you might consider a series featuring an
elderly private eye who accepts cases to help the old who find themselves in
trouble with the law. I predict that it would be a best seller.
* The Bureau of Justice
Statistics shows in 2012, states with the highest imprisonment rates included
Louisiana (893 per 100,000 state residents), Mississippi (717 per 100,000 state
residents), Alabama (650 per 100,000 state residents), Oklahoma (648 per 100,000
state residents), and Texas (601 per 100,000 state residents).