RALEIGH, N.C. — Inmates over the age of 50 are a burgeoning part of the state prison population, and the bill for their medical care is rising along with their numbers.
The average annual medical bill for one of those inmates is $7,000, and the total runs into the millions.
"That age group is rising faster than any part of our inmate population," Carolina Prisons Director Boyd Bennett said Wednesday.
He explained that mandatory sentences and the state's “no parole” policy have led to an increase of nearly 50 percent in the over-50 inmate population in the past five years, from about 2,700 in 2002 to more than 4,000 now.
"As people get older, they have more medical problems, obviously, and anything medically related is very expensive, we're having to spend a lot more out for inmate medical care," Bennett said.
Bennett says the state spent about $195 million on health care for all inmates last year, up 16 percent from 2005.
Some lawmakers have introduced a bill asking the prison system to study policies in other states, and one lawmaker believes early parole could be an option.
"There are going to be ethical and legal issues that we haven't had to look at before,” state Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland County, said.
“Maybe do we send them home so they can die with their family or with hospice care?" Glazier said.
Another step toward reducing health-care costs is a $132 million hospital being built at Central Prison. That facility should be finished in about four years.