Psychosocial Needs of Released Long-Term Incarcerated Older Adults

Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Psychosocial Needs
of Released Long-Term
Incarcerated Older Adults
Lisa A. Lares
and Susanne Montgomery
In the context of mass incarceration, more and more prisoners grow old in U.S. prisons, and with
recent changes in legislation more and more are being released. These individuals are often ill-
prepared to function in a society that has changed significantly during their incarceration. This
qualitative study examines the psychosocial needs of these releasees. Nineteen semistructured
interviews took place with adults ages 55-82 who were released from parole and professionals who
worked with this population. A grounded theory methods approach was used for data collection,
coding, and analyses. Using saturation as a consensus, several themes emerged related to the specific
needs and challenges older adults face postincarceration: challenges of parole, challenges of parole
specific to older adults, reentry initiative (RI) program success, and quality of life/mental health. The
needs of formerly incarcerated adults are complex, and many find themselves in an environment that
does not help them with the required adjustments. Many lack ties to the community, having lost
contact with friends and family who might assist them at this crucial time. As a result, many older
adults released from parole seriously consider reoffending as an option. This article concludes with a
discussion of best practice suggestions such as formal RI programs to assist older adults post-
incarceration in successfully transitioning back into society and policy changes to address the needs
of this vulnerable population.
older adult, prisoner, needs, challenges, parole
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United States
has the largest incarcerated population in the world (NAACP, 2016), and much like its society
overall (Ortman et al., 2014) its prison population is aging (Carson & Sabol, 2014). Between a trend
in new legislation in states and territories nationwide that provides for compassionate release
(Maschi et al., 2016) and increasing numb ers of older adult prisoners nearing the en d of their
Loma Linda University, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lisa A. Lares, Loma Linda University, 24851 Circle Dr., Loma Linda, CA 92354, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(3) 358-377
ª2020 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820913101
long-term sentences (Kerbs & Jolley, 2009), the population of recently released formerly incarcer-
ated older adults is ballooning. In 2009, more than 70,000 offenders were released from state and
federal institutions and into the community, and aging prisoners represent an increasing share of this
population (Wyse, 2017). This group has needs that affect neither their older adult peers nor their
younger parolee counterparts, facing elevated risks of mental health problems, substance misuse,
and poor social reintegration postrelease (Bryson et al., 2017). Many have been in prison a long time,
and they face a society that mostly does not value older people and that has strong negative
sentiments about former prisoners. Programs to address their specific needs are scant.
While there is a somewhat robust literature on prisoners’ mental health and other needs, few
studies focus on the mental health and psychosocial needs of the postrelease functioning of formerly
incarcerated older adults. Understanding their psychosocial and mental health needs is crucial to
helping them successfully integrate back into society, which will benefit both this vulnerable
population and society at large.
Aging in the United States
The aging population in the United States is becoming more diverse in terms of rural or urban
residency, racial identity, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, culture, religion, and
other factors (Mehrotra & Wagner, 2018). As of 2013, approximately 44.7 million of the total U.S.
population, or roughly 14%of the overall population, was aged 65 or older, and this is estimated to
increase to 21%of the total population by the year 2040 (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2014). The graying of the nation will coincide with the diversification of the nation, as the
United States is anticipated to become minority–majority by the year 2050 (McBride, 2012).
Minorities also make up the majority in prisons and jails (Bonner et al., 2016). Together, African
American and Hispanics comprised 58%of all prisoners in 2008, even though they make up only
one quarter of the U.S. population (Hartney & Vuong, 2009). The racial component of mass
incarceration must not be overlooked in general, but the intersection of aging and incarceration
adds to this complex issue. As increasing numbers of older adults are being released to society, the
field of ethnogeriatrics needs to include this growing group in their focus.
Social Integration Postrelease and Recidivism
At the end of 2016, an estimated 4.5 million adults in the United States were under community
supervision (Kaeble et al., 2016). A plethora of social challenges face formerly incarcerated people
as they seek to socially integrate and meet the demands of their parole or probation requirements.
Such conditions might be general, such as refraining from breaking the law, reporting to probation
officers as required, and not leaving the state without permission, or special, tailored to the circum-
stances of each case (e.g., drug testing and treatment, curfews, restraining orders; Corbett, 2015).
Postrelease requirements may include finding and maintaining regular employment, participating in
intensive supervision programs, not changing residence or employment without permission, and
paying supervision fees. These requirements can complicate successful reintegration for older
adults, who may be particularly lacking in knowledge about available resources, skills to execute
technological processes, and social connections for support. Older offenders’ connections to family
may be frayed due to years of criminal involvement, drug abuse, or lengthy prison sentences (Wyse,
Many researchers have indicated that insufficient preparation for discharge can lead to high rates
of recidivism, and lowering recidivism rates is a policy goal in most jurisdictions (Durose et al.,
2014). While little data exist parsing out the recidivism rates for older adult former prisoners, overall
data for recent releasees are concerning. For instance, a 5-year Bureau of Justice Statistics study
Lares and Montgomery 359

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