Early Release Programs for Elderly Prisoners

The Problem: According to the Justice Department

  • Elderly prisoners are the fastest-growing segment of the federal prison population, due largely to the use of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences over the last 30 years.
  • Elderly prisoners are also more expensive to incarcerate than younger prisoners, largely because they often have more medical problems that require treatment, medication, and surgery.
  • Elderly prisoners reoffend at lower rates than younger prisoners and have fewer disciplinary incidents while incarcerated.
  • Bureau of Prisons (BOP) currently lacks sufficient medical personnel and resources to address elderly offender medical needs within reasonable time periods.
  • BOP facilities are not equipped to accommodate the special needs and physical limitations of elderly prisoners (e.g., having lower bunks, handrails in showers, etc.).
  • BOP employees are not properly trained to recognize and address the needs of elderly prisoners, and there are currently not enough social workers to help the large number of elderly prisoners find the resources they need for successful reentry.
  • The previous BOP pilot program’s criteria were too narrow, leading to the release of only about 80 people over a two-year period, out of a total prison population of over 210,000.

It doesn’t make Americans safer to pay more for the incarceration of elderly prisoners who pose little public safety threat. 

Solution: Create a permanent program to allow either the BOP or an elderly federal prisoner to request that prisoner’s transfer out of prison and onto home confinement, by submitting a written request to the U.S. Attorney General. Violations of release conditions or committing new crimes could mean that the home detention would be revoked and the person would be sent back to federal prison. The Second Chance Act of 2007, signed into law by President George W. Bush, included an elderly offender release program, but it was temporary and only lasted two years. Its criteria were also very narrow, so it benefited only about 80 prisoners, despite the growing numbers of elderly prisoners. Making such a release program broader and permanent would reduce prison costs and treat the elderly with greater dignity by permitting incarceration in their own homes, without endangering the public.  

Pending bills in the 115th Congress:

NOTE: THESE BILLS ARE NOT LAW. FAMM does not know if or when a bill listed below may become a law. Every year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very few become law. To become a law, a bill must first be approved by the Judiciary Committee, passed by the full U.S. House of Representatives, the full U.S. Senate, and signed by the President. Keep checking here for updates on these bills’ progress.

H.R. 64, Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2017 (115th Congress)


DOJ Inspector General Report: The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (May 2015)

“The Painful Price of Aging in Prison” (Sari Horowitz, Washington Post, May 2, 2015)

Life Sentences in the Federal System (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2015)