Community Reentry and Older Adult Offenders: Redefining Social Work Roles

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Case Western Reserve University]On: 30 October 2014, At: 13:02Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Gerontological Social WorkPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wger20

    Community Reentry and Older AdultOffenders: Redefining Social Work RolesDoreen Higgins a & Margaret E. Severson ba Social Work Professional Programs , University of WisconsinGreenBay , Green Bay, Wisconsin, USAb School of Social Welfare , University of Kansas , Lawrence, Kansas,USAPublished online: 14 Oct 2009.

    To cite this article: Doreen Higgins & Margaret E. Severson (2009) Community Reentry and OlderAdult Offenders: Redefining Social Work Roles, Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52:8, 784-802,DOI: 10.1080/01634370902888618

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    Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52:784802, 2009 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0163-4372 print/1540-4048 onlineDOI: 10.1080/01634370902888618

    WGER0163-43721540-4048Journal of Gerontological Social Work, Vol. 52, No. 8, September 2009: pp. 00Journal of Gerontological Social Work

    Community Reentry and Older Adult Offenders: Redefining Social Work Roles

    Community Reentry and Older Adult OffendersD. Higgins and M. E. Severson

    DOREEN HIGGINSSocial Work Professional Programs, University of WisconsinGreen Bay,

    Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA

    MARGARET E. SEVERSONSchool of Social Welfare, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

    The number of older adults in US prisons continues to rise. In 2002,adults ages 50 and older made up 8% of the US prison population,up from 4% a decade prior. Many older offenders are released tocommunities that are poorly equipped to meet their special needs.and largely unprepared for the social and fiscal costs of their reentry.The focus of gerontological social work education on the returningolder adult offender has been limited. This article examines socialwork roles in the community reentry/reintegration of older adultoffenders. Best practices from the gerontological social work litera-ture are presented and implications for social work practice arediscussed.

    KEYWORDS Older adult offender, community reentry, geriatricassessment, case management, geriatric social work

    INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND: THE AGING OF AMERICA AND OF OLDER ADULT INMATES

    The aging of America sets the stage for examination of a critical social workpractice issue. As of 2005, the US population of individuals age 65 and oldernumbered 36 million, or 12% of the population (US Department of Healthand Human Services, Administration on Aging [AOA], 2006). By 2030, this

    Received 7 February 2008; accepted 2 March 2009.Address correspondence to Doreen Higgins, PhD, Social Work Professional Programs,

    University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Drive, CL-710C, Green Bay, WI 54311.E-mail: higginsd@uwgb.edu

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  • Community Reentry and Older Adult Offenders 785

    number is expected to increase to approximately 70 million, or 20% of thepopulation (AOA, 2006).

    Mirroring the trend in the population-at-large, there has been analarming increase in the number of older adults incarcerated in US pris-ons over the last 2 decades. Although definitions of what constitutes anolder adult vary, most studies use age 50 or 55 as the chronological ageat which one becomes an older adult offender (Aday, 2003; Rikard &Rosenberg, 2007). The National Institute of Corrections, an agency of theUS Department of Justice, recommends age 50 as the categorical age forolder offenders (US Senate Subcommittee on Aging and Long-Term Care,2003).

    In 2002, approximately 125,000 individuals age 50 and older wereincarcerated in US prisons, or about 8% of the total US prison populationa figure nearly double that of the previous decade (Aday, 2003). Accordingto the US Department of Justice, from 1995 to 2003, inmates age 55 andolder made up the largest percentage of growth in prison inmates, increas-ing by an alarming 85% (Harrison & Beck, 2004). Some estimate that by2020, older inmates will make up 21% to 33% of the US prison population(Neeley, Addison, & Craig-Moreland, 1997).

    In 2001, approximately 600,000 inmates were returned to the com-munity after serving time in prisonnearly 1,600 individuals per day(Petersilia, 2004). According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics,between 1990 and 1999, the percentage of released prisoners age 55 andolder increased from 1.5% to 2.1% of the total US parolee population,from approximately 5,000 to 9,000 inmates annually (Williams &Abraldes, 2007). Many of these were released to underfunded probationand parole agencies that provided little oversight and service coordina-tion (Travis, 2000).

    As the number of older adult prisoners released into the communitycontinues to rise, so, too, will the challenges facing correctional systems,social service agencies, health care providers, policymakers, and others whoare concerned with addressing the multiple needs of this particular group ofolder adults. The social work profession has a vital role to play in olderadult offenders transitions from prison settings to community living, yet hasseemingly lost its voice in the corrections system (Chaiklin, 2007; Reamer,2004). This article examines the role of social work in the community reen-try and reintegration of older adults, and argues that increased social workinvolvement with older adult offenders at the time of community reentry isnot only timely, but a professional responsibility, as well. In keeping with theobligation to serve those most vulnerable to discrimination and oppression,social workers should avail themselves of this opportunity to build on existinggerontological social work knowledge and guide community resources asthey are tapped to serve this marginalized and vulnerable subset of theolder adult population.

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  • 786 D. Higgins and M. E. Severson

    THE AGING INMATE POPULATION

    Catalysts of Population Growth

    In general, the older adult prison population consists of those with longcriminal histories, who have spent a substantial portion of their lives in thesystem, and those who become incarcerated for first offenses late in life(Ornduff, 1996; Yates & Gillespie, 2000).

    Several factors are thought to have contributed to the rise in the olderadult prison population. Older people are sentenced to prison more now thanat times in the past and, at the same time, more punitive and restrictiveresponses to crime are used (Aday, 2003; AOA, 2007b; Rikard & Rosenberg,2007; Yates & Gillespie, 2000). Changes in criminal justice policies such asthose advanced in mandatory minimum sentencing, in two and three strikeslegislation, and in stricter parole eligibility policies and practices have resultedin the meting out and serving of longer sentences. The deinstitutionalizationand transinstitutionalization of persons with mental illness is also thought tohave played a role (AOA, 2006; Williams & Abraldes, 2007; Yates & Gillespie,2000), as has the dramatic growth in prison capacity over the past severaldecades (Roberts, 1983; Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007). Advances in medical tech-nology and increased life expectancy have also contributed to the increasednumber of older adult inmates (Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007). And the ability ofjudges and parole boards to consider mitigating factors, such as chronic healthconditions associated with old age, when determining offenders sentences hasbeen diminished by many of these policies (Yates & Gillespie, 2000).

    The Needs of Older Adult Inmates

    The needs of older adults in the corrections system are significantly greaterthan those of other prisoners, and they tend to be sicker when they enterthe prison system (Chaiklin, 2007; Ornduff, 1996; Williams & Abraldes,2007). A significant number of older adults in prisons and in communitycorrections require specialized medical care for chronic health conditionssuch as degenerative arthritis, chronic respiratory ailments, cardiovasculardiseases, diabetes, and cancer (Aday, 2003; Williams & Abraldes, 2007).Cognitive and emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and dementia,require a variety of health and social service interventions among the olderadult prison population (Aday, 2003; Yates & Gillespie, 2000). As with thepopulation in general, other conditions, such as vision and hearing impair-ment, risk of falls, urinary incontinence, and a general decline in functionalabilities, affect older adult prisoners as well (Williams & Abraldes, 2007).But, the average older adult prisoner is 710 years older physiologicallythan they are chronologically, due to histories of alcohol and drug abuse,insufficient medical care, poverty, harsh prison conditions, and other socialproblems (Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007).

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  • Community Reentry and Older Adult Offenders 787

    The cost of caring for older adult prisoners is nearly triple that of otherinmates, due largely to the expenses associated with their healthcare needs(AOA, 2006, Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007; Yates & Gillespie, 2000). A recentstudy by the Georgia Department of Corrections found that the meanannual cost of inmate incarceration for adults 50 and older was $69,000 perperson, compared with $22,000 for younger inmates (Rikard & Rosenberg,2007). Some contend that the costs of incarceration are high as a result ofinmates rights to care under the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Courthas held that penal systems have an obligation to provide adequate medicalcare for those incarcerated, and that not doing so constitutes cruel andunusual punishment, contravening the principles of the Eighth Amendment(Estelle v. Gamble, 429, US 97, 1976). It has been suggested that the cost ofmaintaining older adults in prisons may outweigh the overall benefits tosociety because older adults are less likely to reoffend than those in otherage groups (Yates & Gillespie, 2000).

    It is well documented that poor prison living conditions, includingovercrowding and violence, inadequate mental health, and medical treat-ment, and prior life conditions that exacerbate existing health and mentalhealth conditions make older adult prisoners a unique special needs popu-lation that requires special prerelease considerations (AOA, 2007b; Ornduff,1996; Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007). Older adult prisoners also face the likeli-hood of having more chronic illnesses than nonimprisoned, similarly agedadults (Williams & Abraldes, 2007). Gerontologists have expressed concernabout the treatment, or lack thereof, provided to incarcerated older persons(Aday, 2003; Ornduff, 1996) and have proposed a number of solutionsincluding exploring alternatives to incarceration such as house arrest; estab-lishment of geriatric prisons; separating older prisoners; medical parole; andearly release of nonviolent, low-risk offenders (AOA, 2006; Williams &Abraldes, 2007). The Project for Older Prisoners (POPS) program is anexample of one reentry model that emphasizes the early release of olderinmates who have already served the average sentence for their offensesand who are deemed unlikely to repeat their crimes (Rikard & Rosenberg,2007; Yates & Gillespie, 2000). Another notable effort to integrate olderadult offenders into community settings is the Senior Ex-Offender Program(SEOP) sponsored through a San Francisco-based senior center (Bayview,2007). This innovative program uses federal Office on Aging funding toprovide needed medical, financial, social, mental health, and workopportunities to older exprisoners (Williams & Abraldes, 2007). Pettus andSeverson (2006) introduced the boundary spanner in one states reentryinitiative as an effective strategy to resolve the system-wide challenges tosecuring effective collaboration. Using a community-outreach approach,the boundary spanners role includes ensuring that there has been anassessment of criminologic risks and needs and that intensive case manage-ment services are provided to respond to those risks and needs, and then

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  • 788 D. Higgins and M. E. Severson

    building the necessary community partnerships between corrections officialsand service providers.

    Considerations of justice also must be weighed when discussing olderadult offenders and community reentry. Although the goals of imprison-ment, including the removal of the offender from society for a period ofcorrection, must be supported, the reality is that older adult offenders areless likely to reoffend than their younger counterparts (Aday, 2003). In practice,longer periods of incarceration to protect the public may work against boththe public and the older adult, resulting in significant fiscal costs to theformer (AOA, 2007b, Rikard & Rosenberg, 2007) and essentially becomelife sentences for the latter (Yates & Gillespie, 2000). Given these factors,the timing is right to consider how existing community networks of agingservice providers, probation and parole agencies, and the prison system cancome together to improve the transit...

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