The estimated cost of incarcerating an older individual has been estimated at $70,000 per year, which is more than twice the average per person cost of incarceration in Illinois.[i] As reported by the Illinois Department of Corrections, the average cost for all persons incarcerated in Illinois prisons in fiscal year 2020 was $34,362.[ii]
When these costs are applied to a reasonable estimate of the number of individuals who could be granted parole under Elder Parole, the estimated savings would be $27 to $55 million per year.
This cost savings would continue each year throughout the life spans of the persons who are released on parole, and would increase as more individuals age and become eligible for parole.
As of December 31, 2020, the number of individuals who would qualify to apply for parole under the proposed elder parole process was 1887, which was 6.5% of the total Illinois prison population.[iii] This means that over $64 million was spent to incarcerate these individuals for a single year at the average per-person cost, and up to $130 million may have been spent in a single year at the higher estimated cost of incarcerating older persons.
As in all parole systems, some applicants will be granted parole, and others will be denied, based on their individual circumstances. In States that have parole, which is over two-thirds of the States, the percentage of persons applying for parole who are successful varies from State to State. As a basis for estimating potential cost savings, data show that in 2014, the average rate for granting parole by States was 42%.[iv] If Elder Parole were enacted, and 42% of those eligible for parole were granted parole under the new process, which would mean the release of less than 2.75% of the prison population, the cost savings would be $27 to $55 million per year.
By not providing a parole process, Illinois is continuing to incarcerate people who have been rehabilitated and could contribute to society as law-abiding citizens.
And this is happening when the State does not have enough funds to pay its bills for its obligations to its citizens. Laying aside the considerable human costs of incarcerating people who no longer need to be incarcerated, the financial costs of continuing to deny individuals the right to apply for parole are unreasonable for a State that cannot afford to pay any unnecessary costs.
[i] “Being Old and Doing Time: Functional Impairment and Adverse Experiences of Geriatric Female Prisoners, by Brie A. Williams, MD, Karla Lindquist, MS, Rebecca L. Sudore, MD, Heidi M. Strupp, Donna J. Willmott, MPH, and Louise C. Walter, MD,” in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (April 2006). [ii] Data from IDOC. [iii] Data from IDOC. [iv] : “Eight Keys to Mercy: How to shorten excessive prison sentences” by Jorge Renaud (Prison Policy Initiative, November 2018). Photo: “Heap of different nominal per dollars” by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.