Tip sheet explores the mental health issues of aging prisoners

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Our nation’s aging prison population is bringing to the forefront issues of geriatric mental health among inmates. There are no federal guidelines for treating older, frail inmates who may suffer from chronic mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Corrections officials make do with a patchwork of solutions and programs, according to Linda Redford, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Geriatric Plains Education Center in Kansas City, Kan. While some efforts have been implemented to address general health challenges of aging inmates, almost no research exists which examines the dual challenges of aging and mental health among the prison population. The unique situation of inmates also requires that mental health care be tailored to their situation.

However, as journalist Katti Gray highlights in this new tip sheet, treating the mental health needs of older inmates has not been a significant priority for corrections officials. What is occurring on the federal level may be vastly different than what is available at the state level. Media coverage of this growing crisis has been scant. Check out:

  • This Newsweek article, which explores the challenges of aging prisoners with chronic disease but mentions only briefly mental health.
  • A New York Times piece from 2012 that looks at prison life for those with dementia.
  • A more recent article in the Texas Observer, which examines the growing challenge of aging and ill Texas prisoners, including those with mental health impairments.

Gray’s tip sheet includes many more resources and story ideas for reporters wanting to cover this growing problem.

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