Nevada is far from alone when it comes to paying a premium for its aging inmate population, said Director of Corrections Greg Cox. Every state has the same issues stemming from the “truth in sentencing” movement of the 1990s, he said.
Truth in sentencing means longer sentences with stiffer parole requirements that keep inmates from being freed.
In Nevada, the number of inmates older than 60 makes up just 5 percent to 6 percent of the total population, but those inmates consume nearly 20 percent of outside medical costs — procedures that can’t be done at the system’s Regional Medical Facility in Carson City.
The percentage of inmates older than 60 will continue to grow, Cox said. It increased from 4.8 percent to 5.1 percent over just the past year or so and will eventually be quite a bit higher.
“We’re not facing anything any other department isn’t facing,” he said Tuesday. “We’re doing relatively well.”
In fact, he said, Nevada is handling its older prisoners well enough that Canada, Louisiana and Oregon are looking at the department’s “True Grit” structured-living program for inmates 55 and older.
In that program, about 170 senior inmates live in one unit at NNCC. All have jobs and programs such as drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, counseling and educational opportunities.
Program managers say the result is a healthier, less drug-dependent and more stable inmate group.
Helping with the cost of caring for those inmates is legislation approved by the 2013 Legislature and the new rules for Medicare and Medicaid in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Cox said Corrections is identifying inmates who qualify for Medicare and billing the federal government for services provided to them. Since the Legislature ended in June, he said, the department has recouped more than $500,000.
Under the ACA, he said, the department can bill Medicaid for reimbursement of medical costs for any inmate who’s in an outside hospital for more than 24 hours.
True Grit is at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City because that’s where the Regional Medical Facility is. But Cox said not all the older inmates are there, nor should they be.
Some, he said, are happy at Southern Desert outside of Las Vegas because their families and friends are in the south.
He said it’s also an advantage to have some older inmates scattered throughout the different prison populations.
“They are a calming factor,” he said. “They’ve done significant time and they help us deal with the younger inmates. All of them on one yard, they don’t want that.”
Because of the stiffer sentencing laws, Cox said, some inmates won’t be released.
While Cox said he and his wardens are keeping a close eye on the older inmate population, it’s not something they have much control over.
“I don’t control who comes into our system,” he said adding that that is within the power of the courts and prosecutors.
How long they must stay, he said, is also outside his control.