Curtis Ballard rides a motorized wheelchair around his prison ward, which happens to be the new assisted living unit — a place of many windows and no visible steel bars — at Washington's Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
A stroke left Ballard unable to walk. He's also had a heart attack and he underwent a procedure to remove skin cancer from his neck. At 77, he's been in prison since 1993 for murder. He has 14 years left on his sentence.
Ballard is among the national surge in elderly inmates whose medical expenses are straining cash-strapped states and have officials looking for solutions, including early release, some possibly to nursing homes. Ballard says he's fine where he is.
"I'd be a burden on my kids," said the native Texan. "I'd rather be a burden to these people."
That burden is becoming greater as the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that elderly prisoners â€” the fastest growing segment of the prison population, largely because of tough sentencing laws are three times more expensive to incarcerate than younger inmates.
The ACLU estimates that it costs about $72,000 to house an elderly inmate for a year, compared to $24,000 for a younger prisoner.
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Aging Inmates Straining Prison System