Since you asked: How many people aged 55 or older are in prison, by state?

Our table shows that more than 10% of people incarcerated in state prisons are 55 or older - and in some states, like Montana, the percentage is much higher.

by Emily Widra, May 11, 2020

Prisons and jails have become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with seven of the ten largest hotspots identified as state prisons and local jails. With the CDC having warned that older adults are at heightened risk for severe complications and death from COVID-19, readers have asked us: Just how many people in state prisons are older adults? We’ve answered this question — state by state — in a handy table below.

To prepare our table, we drew on the most recent age data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, 1991-2015. Age data for state prisons is broken down into categories, and older adults fall into the category of “55 and older.” Although outside of correctional facilities, the term “older adults” often refers to people 65 and older, incarceration itself shortens life expectancy and hastens physiological aging. So for the purposes of addressing how vulnerable different groups are to the coronavirus, it makes sense to consider adults 55 and older behind bars as “older adults.”

We found that, on average, more than 10% of people in state prisons are over the age of 55. Some state prison systems have much higher percentages of older adults, like in Montana, where over 17% of the state prison population is 55 years or older.

Regardless of their preexisting health conditions, all older adults are at greater risk for complications from COVID-19. As this virus threatens to turn their prison sentences into death sentences, states should use all possible strategies to release them to the care of their families.

The percentage and count of state prison population that is 55 and older, as well as total prison population, by state for the most recent year possible. Compiled by Prison Policy Initiative from National Corrections Reporting Program, 1991-2015 using year-end populations. For the number and percent of state prison populations 55 and older over time (1999-2015), see our spreadsheet, Percent of prison populations 55 and older, by state, 2013-2015 [xlsx].
State Percent 55 and older Count 55 and older Total population Year
Ala. 12.33% 3,266 26,487 2015
Alaska 10.48% 397 3,597 2014
Ariz. 9.38% 3,971 42,352 2015
Ark. 11.08% 1,734 15,647 2015
Calif. 13.07% 16,826 128,717 2015
Colo. 11.30% 2,191 19,394 2015
Conn. 7.91% 898 11,359 2015
D.C. 10.53% 641 5,414 2014
Del. 10.90% 568 5,210 2015
Fla. 12.91% 12,848 99,532 2015
Ga. 10.95% 5,717 52,188 2015
Hawaii 11.31% 669 5,917 2015
Idaho 10.74% 781 7,270 2015
Ill. 7.76% 4,041 48,159 2014
Ind. 8.72% 2,401 27,535 2015
Iowa 10.06% 944 9,388 2015
Kans. 10.92% 1,070 9,795 2015
Ky. 7.90% 1,729 21,877 2015
La. 11.51% 4,079 35,434 2015
Maine 10.81% 241 2,230 2015
Mass. 15.23% 1,391 9,134 2015
Md. 9.21% 1,850 20,095 2015
Mich. 11.66% 5,032 43,171 2013
Minn. 7.83% 795 10,153 2015
Miss. 9.43% 1,758 18,648 2015
Mo. 10.89% 3,447 31,666 2015
Mont. 17.34% 439 2,531 2015
N. Dak. 7.33% 126 1,720 2014
N. Mex. 9.51% 684 7,195 2015
N.C. 10.81% 3,947 36,524 2015
N.H. 14.86% 402 2,705 2015
N.J. 9.34% 2,021 21,638 2015
N.Y. 10.37% 5,289 50,992 2015
Nebr. 10.12% 535 5,289 2015
Nev. 12.36% 1,644 13,299 2015
Ohio 10.96% 5,969 54,455 2015
Okla. 10.68% 3,115 29,156 2015
Oreg. 12.11% 1,757 14,503 2014
Pa. 12.10% 6,049 50,005 2015
R.I. 9.45% 253 2,678 2015
S. Dak. 10.03% 345 3,441 2015
S.C. 10.29% 2,190 21,288 2015
Tenn. 8.87% 2,749 30,978 2015
Tex. 11.59% 17,456 150,627 2015
Utah 10.24% 647 6,318 2015
Va. 11.21% 4,106 36,631 2015
Vt. 10.61% 177 1,668 2015
W. Va. 11.98% 777 6,487 2015
Wash. 11.20% 1,967 17,560 2015
Wis. 10.48% 2,379 22,695 2015
Wyo. 12.81% 309 2,413 2015

Emily Widra is a Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)



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