Prisoners and Special Needs Prisoners Presentation

Prisoners with Special Needs


May 30, 2016

Richard Gilbert Introduction

When we think about prison, we generally think of inmates doing push-ups, sit ups, building their bodies up, and being tough. What about those prisoners with special needs, these include; the mentally and physically handicapped, geriatric inmates, the mentally ill, and substance abusing prisoners? In this paper we will discuss how special needs prisoners affect jails and prisons systems at the state and local levels. We will also discuss what would happen to these inmates if they are not cared for properly. Finally, I will select a program designed to assist or care for a certain special needs population, and I will discuss; the characteristics of the program I have selected and how that program has affected or currently affects the special offender population in my selected prison.

Special Needs Inmates and Their Affect on the Criminal Justice System

Before we can discuss how special needs inmates have affected and continue to affect the criminal justice system, we must first identify what type of inmates make up this population. This population generally consists of offenders who have shown a propensity for violence, inmates with a history of committing sex assault, those with a physical disability, inmates suffering from mental illness, juveniles, the elderly, and those suffering from infectious diseases such as HIV, AIDS, or other immunodeficiency diseases.

Inmates regardless of special needs or otherwise were treated pretty much the same prior to the 1960s. In the 1960s, the correction system began to recognize the need to treat certain groups of offenders differently based upon their needs. Special needs inmates such as the mentally ill among others require specialized treatment programs in order to be effectively rehabilitated . This can and does affect the state and federal prison system in many ways. One example of this effect can be seen when managing; juvenile, female, and elderly inmates. Juvenile and elderly inmates require segregation from other inmates for safety and security reasons. Elderly or geriatric inmates may experience accessibility issues and may also require low energy work and recreational activities. Elderly inmates generally suffer from mental illness in association with her age and spend the majority of their time in the prison infirmary. Because there has been a significant increase in the incarceration of these groups the correction system has had to adapt by hiring a more diverse group of corrections officers .

The Bureau of Justice statistics conducted a study in 2006 reporting that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues, this equates to an estimated 1.25 million suffering from mental illness which is four times greater than a previous study conducted in 1998 . This study also found that prisons house more mentally ill patients than hospitals, and most mentally ill inmates are generally arrested and charged for crimes of survival that possibly could have been prevented .

Another group of special needs prisoners includes substance abusing inmates which make up the majority of the prison population. Studies have shown 75% of prison inmates were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their arrest . Substance abuse prisoners burden the prison system greatly by having an estimated 95% recidivism rate due to relapse and their reliance on drugs or alcohol. This can be due to the lack of drug treatment programs and the availability of drugs and prison. These offenders require specialized drug and alcohol abuse counseling as well as specialized medical care for drug-related sicknesses and illnesses.

Without Proper Care

While it is true that special offenders can be a financial burden on the criminal justice system, certain programs are necessary to satisfy the overall goals of the correction system and help the inmate to overcome their disabilities. When an inmate is not properly treated or rehabilitated properly, the results is the revolving door in which inmates are constantly being handled by the criminal justice system. Treatment and counseling services can effectively help inmates rehabilitate and transition back into the community upon their release. The majority of drug and alcohol abusers only commit crimes when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and in search of their next high. Mentally ill inmates on the other hand are all too often incarcerated following an arrest and awaiting trial and therefore do not receive treatment to help them with their illnesses. Alternatively, these treatment programs can assist mentally ill inmates in seeking help through treatment centers or hospitals which can nurture the healing process and supervise the administration of needed medication. The hope is, that if the special needs inmates are provided counseling and treatment programs, they will go on to lead productive lives outside of prison.

Specialized Program for Geriatric (elderly) Inmates

between 1979 and 1997 the number of inmates in state and federal correctional institution has increased approximately 750%. Some of the reasons behind this dramatic increase include an aging “baby boomer” population, longer life expectancy, and lengthy mandatory sentences as well as “life without” sentences for second and third felony offenses. A study conducted in 2005 by the Bureau of Justice statistics reported that 12% of incarcerated males nationwide were above the age of 50. While many states including Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Maryland have established model hospice programs for terminally ill and inmates, and others have experimented with compassionate early release programs. There has been little correctional programming actually put in place for aging inmates that are not terminally ill but are serving their “golden years” in prison.

True Grit

to address the lack of programs aimed at geriatric or elderly inmates the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC) in Carson City Nevada has partnered with Nevada’s Division of Aging Services to design the True Grit program. This program was designed to be a structured living program as opposed to a hospice with the goal of getting older inmates out of their beds and into more activities resulting in better health. This program encourages elderly inmates to take part in team recreational programs as well as work programs to give them a reason to get out of bed in the mornings as well as improve their mobility and engage in social activities. The true grit program also assists inmates in applying for early compassionate release and adds humanity to the prison system thereby giving inmates hope.

This program benefits not only the inmates but also the prison system due to the fact that no state funds were utilized in the creation as all materials were donated and the work was completed by inmate labor. This program has also decreased geriatric infirmary visits as well as decrease the need for psychotropic medications and improves the general well-being of the elderly inmates. The biggest benefit to this program is it has reduced the fear of dying alone .


the population of special needs inmates has grown at a steady rate resulting in a need for more individualized care and treatment programs tailored towards their needs. Each group of special needs inmates requires different treatment and assistance to be successfully rehabilitated. While some of these treatment programs may be caused prohibitive, they are necessary to successfully treat and rehabilitate those with special needs thereby, overall reducing the rate of recidivism. The true grit program for example, encourages elderly inmates to live fuller, longer, healthier lives by participating in recreational, work, and social activities. Overall, participation in these programs may ultimately reduce the rates of recidivism for special needs inmates.


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