In short, more than 100,000 prisoners are currently destined to die in prison, and far more will remain there well into their 60s and 70s. Many of these men—as most of them are men—were never violent criminals, even in their youth. In Texas, for example, 65 percent of the older prisoners are in for nonviolent acts such as drug possession and property crimes.
Keeping thousands of old men locked away might make sense to die-hards seeking maximum retribution or politicians seeking political cover, but it has little effect on public safety. By age 50, people are far less likely to commit serious crimes. “Arrest rates drop to 2 percent,” explains [Bob] Hood, the retired federal warden [at the federal correctional complex in Florence, Colorado]. “They are almost nil at the age of 65.” The arrest rate for 16-to-19-year-olds, by contrast, runs around 12 percent. Once released, therefore, the vast majority of the older prisoners never return.