Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Aging prison inmates

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Oct 26, 2014 2:44 PM
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What to look for on Smart Talk Monday, October 27, 2014:

If a convicted criminal in Pennsylvania has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, he probably will die in prison.  That's according to a recent report by PublicSource, an investigative journalism organization.

Many people are probably of the opinion that a life sentence means just that -- life in prison with no exceptions.

But there are others who question whether it is a good use of taxpayer dollars and sometimes crowded prison space to keep some 5,300 geriatric inmates behind bars.  Geriatric prisoners are defined as those over the age of 55.  It cost the state an average of $35,000 a year to house an inmate.  Those figures add up to about $180 million a year to keep the geriatric inmates in prison

There are also those who object for humanitarian reasons..

The counter argument is public safety and the cost of government programs that older inmates released from jail would use offset what is spent on keeping an inmate in prison.

The average age of an inmate in the Pennsylvania state penal system is 38. 

According to the PublicSource report, the oldest state prisoner in Pennsylvania is 96 years old.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss the aging prison population are Public Source reporter Jeffrey Benzing and Dr. Kori Novak, an expert on the aging in the penal system.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel also participates in the program.


Dr. Kori Novak, an expert on the aging in the penal system.

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  • Tim Blosser img 2014-10-27 08:25

    This morning's show is interesting, but the issue pales in comparison to the numbers of elderly in virtual prisons around the country in elder-care environments that are abysmal. These are people who have committed no crimes.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:35

    An Anonymous email asked:

    I haven’t heard the whole story obviously but the obvious question to me is.. would the elderly inmates want released? And if they did how would they support themselves

    They would just burden other state systems or become homeless mostly.

    Sure.. they could see the night sky again but.. would they trade 3 meals a day and a roof for the night sky?

    I hope they have polled the people to see what they think.

    You can’t just release institutionalized people, see Shaw shank redemption; that movie is not far from the truth. Compassionate visitors always think everyone would want released and what prisoner would tell someone who is nice… no.. I’d rather stay here. Their friends are in prison their lives are in prison. They should ask them if they want released.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:35

    Ron emailed:

    1. Chaplain present.
    2. It's a political vote getter.
    3. You do the crime you do the time.
    4. Who pays for them when the get out!
    5. What about the victim. What will they pay for the rest of their lives.
    6. Who thinks the prisoner's relatives can or want to pay for them. $3000/mth.
    Thank you!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:36

    Teri asks:

    How does the financial burden on society change with compassionate release? Is there any savings? Or is the money just coming from a different bucket? How would implementing a compassionate release allow more space for younger, more violent offenders who are possibly given lighter sentences because of prison overcrowding?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:43

    Tim comments:

    This morning's show is interesting, but the issue pales in comparison to the numbers of elderly in virtual prisons around the country in elder-care environments that are abysmal. These are people who have committed no crimes.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:45

    An Anonymous email asks:

    Jeff Banzene(?), I still wonder if he talked to the people in the prison.. the younger people pushing the older ones around.. might feel like they are accomplishing something and be friends with the older inmates.

    I am not saying prison is great it’s just that.. if you spend your life in prison.. it is likely you have no other family to visit you.

    Also, it is interesting and I feel like it was brushed over that by releasing them it would change from State money to Federal money… I suspect that is part of the motivation of this entire issue.

    I have experience with someone who was incarcerated in a prison that had a large population of settled in lifer’s near state college.. so I guess I take this a little personally.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:46

    Shealyn from Auburn emailed:

    Does PA carry medical insurance for their inmates? Who negotiates the fees paid for medical services? Are the inmates giving regular health screenings that may prevent future illness (colonoscopies, prostate exams, mammograms, blood sugar monitoring)?

    Thank you!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-10-27 08:56

    Elizabeth from Carlisle emailed:

    Scott, great show as usual,
    I heard we are administering Oxygen to older inmates. Why?????
    Why on earth would we prolong their lives. I am coming from a compassionate side. For all sorts of reason, we could just ALLOW. Let nature take its course.
    Just because we can does not mean we should.


  • Robert D Colgan img 2014-10-28 07:54

    One of the more depressing shows I have heard on RST.

    We put people in prison.
    Not to make them better people, not to let them learn from their mistakes and live more productive fulfilling lives............
    not to show them that we understand people make mistakes, that we care about them as fellow citizens

    We put them in prison because we are a mean-spirited, callous, heartless nation of vindictive, militant-minded, and legal recursive people in a patriarchal hierarchy.
    We put people in prison because we have a prison system that treats caged human beings as inferiors...reserving the greatest pejoration for those who have murdered-------yet we openly condone murder and even reward those in officially sanctioned combat operations who kill others as "noble warriors."

    Meanwhile, those who cause the greatest harm to the greatest number are ignored by the law and penal system....their poisonous and greed-driven practices destructive to the environment and to the social fabric go unchecked.

    We do not have about ourselves a clear notion of what it means to be genuine human beings who treat all others with respect and kindness.......and no where is this in greater evidence than in our large razor-wired zoo cages where we daily keep more than two million fellow American citizens behind locked doors.