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Yale study: Aging prison population to require increased training in geriatric specialties

June 29, 2017

Older aged inmates will account for one-third of all people incarcerated in the United States by 2030, requiring more forensic psychiatrists to be trained in geriatric specialties, according to a new paper written by a Yale Department of Psychiatry fellow and two faculty members.

The paper, published online in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, examined the ability of prison systems to meet the medical and psychiatric needs of older prisoners – inmates over the age of 50, as classified by the National Institute of Corrections.

Some states have created geriatric-specific prison programs that provide age-appropriate activities and health services to older inmates, but there are limitations because too few specialists are trained in geriatric conditions, including forensic psychiatrists, according to the paper.

The authors proposed a variety of measures to address the needs of older prisoners, including the expansion of early-release programs and compassionate release, age-specific rehabilitation training, specialized inmate housing, sentencing reform, and the training of more geriatrically minded forensic psychiatrists to help with criminal and non-criminal cases.

“These efforts should be paired with improved training and education aimed at inmate re-entry into society, with a concentration on community resources and availability of federal benefits,” the authors wrote. “Community and family resources, combined with federal benefits, will be necessary to provide compassionate care to the inmate while in prison and to provide parolees the resources they need to make a successful transition to life outside of prison. Current sentencing laws must be reformed to prevent further bottlenecks within the prison system."

The authors were Stephanie C. Yarnell, MD, PhD, a Fellow in Forensic Psychiatry at Yale; Paul D. Kirwin, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Yale’s Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship; and Howard V. Zonana, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and co-founder of Yale’s Law and Psychiatry Division.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on June 28, 2017