>>Some are blind. Others are ridden with cancer. Many have serious mental illness. All of them are old. And a few will never get out alive.>>The United States gives out longer sentences than any other place on the face of the earth. Europe looks at us like we don’t know what we’re doing – looks at us like we’re crazy.>>Open Nine.>>In this special investigation, Fault Lines gains unprecedented and exclusive access to prisons across the United States and discovers a booming population of elderly inmates.>>Open five. We ask: what’s the true cost of America’s “lock’em-up-and-throw-away-the- key” approach to justice?>>I heard him fall.>>Inmates call this the death house. The geriatric unit at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma, holds more than 250 elderly and disabled offenders. It was created 3 years ago in response to a massive explosion in Oklahoma’s elderly prison population.>>Our fastest growing segment is the inmates that are the age of 50 and over. We have about 3,700 now – that’s grown almost 200 percent in the last decade – and projections are we’re gonna continue to grow about 45 percent a year – because of enhancements to punishments, ‘tough on crime’, 85% laws that require you to serve 85% before you’re even eligible for parole, and then the advent of life without parole.>>My name is Plutarcho Hill and my number is 48713. I received that January the 16th, 1948.>>Plutarcho has the oldest inmate number in the state, he is 86 years old – 66 of those years have been spent behind bars. He’s escaped from prison 10 times.>>So you’re as good getting out of prison as you are getting in?>>Well, when my health was good.>>What are you serving for now? This sentence?>>It was a murder charge.>>How long ago?>>1947.>>What’s your sentence?>>Life.>>And this is what life means for Plutarcho now. A small section of a dormitory, with a few black and white photographs of his family. He’s outlived all of them.>>Elderly people in prison. Should they be given extra consideration for release?>>Well, yeah. Yeah, I do.>>Can you explain why?>>Because they’re harmless.>>Plutarcho’s not alone. In fact he’s part of a growing American trend. In the last decade the number of prisoners aged 55 and over has grown by an astonishing 75 percent, partly because longer sentences began to be handed out in the 1970’s and 80’s as the U.S. took a “tough on crime” approach. And the older a prisoner is, the bigger financial drain they pose. An elderly inmate costs around 70 thousand dollars a year to lock up – 2 to 3 times more than younger offenders. Older prisoners suffer higher rates of health problems – functional disabilities, impaired movement, major diseases, and mental illness. Mabel Basset Correctional Center is Oklahoma’s largest women’s prison. This state incarcerates more women per capita than any other in the US – twice the national average. They too are growing old behind bars. Estella and Mary may look like two grandmothers passing their time reading and writing poetry. And they are. But they’re also convicted killers.>>I didn’t have a chance in what I did. It was either kill or be killed. And I chose to live, and it was a survival thing.>>Estella turns 60 in November. She’s been behind bars for 13 years and hopes to be released in 2014.>>Can you tell us what kind of impact your incarceration has had on your family?>>Well it’s been especially hard on my grandchildren, because they always wonder why I can’t go home with them when they come to visit me. And they get upset. Like why did you do it, they ask me why did you do this, you know, and explaining to little kids like that that you took somebody’s life is really hard.>>The rising number of elderly prisoners – and the price tag for that trend – comes as state budgets are being squeezed across the country. Oklahoma has been hit particularly hard.>>The second round of budget reductions took a lot of our treatment. We have no substance abuse treatment, contractually or otherwise at the medium security level down. I know you’ve been to some of our medium security facilities. So we have to go back to our 10,000 plus volunteers, people that are retired professionals, people that work with faith-based groups or prison ministries, and ask them to do more, to fill in the gaps.>>On a recent Sunday evening, the West Moore Community Church band is doing just that, playing a concert for the inmates at Joseph Harp Correctional Facility. Numerous prisons we visited in Oklahoma were on lockdown because they did not have enough officers on duty to provide security. Staffing in Oklahoma prison systems is at 70% Officials told us they were operating in warehouse mode, storing people with little to no rehabilitation efforts. Most of the prisoners, young and old, that we talked to spoke about how hard it was to be granted parole. Unlike every other state in the US, all parolees in Oklahoma must be signed off directly by the governor. It’s part of the political landscape where politicians don’t want to be seen as soft on crime.>>You’ll never find somebody running for elected office in the House or the Senate that’s going to have a platform of successful reintegration, or is going to be less tough on crime than whoever they’re running against. That’s just the nature of politics I believe.>>What do you think of prison.>>It ain’t no good. No, it ain’t no good for people today.>>At 100 years old, with one leg missing and suffering from dementia, Sherman Parker is one of the oldest prisoners in the United States. He’s locked up at Dick Conner Correctional Facility- an hour north of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here the prison has found a low cost solution for inmate health care–they train other prisoners as orderlies to work in the infirmary. Seth Anderson often works long hours taking care of the inmates here and for his efforts is paid $5 a month. He was convicted of kidnapping, drug possession and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.>>Dick Conners’ infirmary is where everybody comes to die. We have guys with cancer, leukemia, bone cancer. One guy’s got leukemia, bone cancer and lung cancer, all in the same. That’s what he’s here for. He’s here to die.>>One inmate Seth takes care of is blind — a wool cap pulled down over his face to prevent light from irritating his eyes. He is one of several inmates here Seth says has been granted medical parole, but remain behind bars simply because they don’t have anyone to pick them up.>>As for the fear that some of these men might reoffend – the statistics show that it happens, but it’s rare – just 3 out of every 100 prisoners over 55 return to prison, compared to almost half of all 18-29 year olds.>>They can’t harm nobody else. They can’t harm themselves, you know what I mean. There’s no sense in them being here.>>Seth thinks Sherman Parker should be released too. Sherman is serving two life sentences for shooting and killing two women, when he was 82. He has no chance of leaving prison alive.>>But what about, let’s say the victim’s family like one of the ladies that Mr. Parker shot? Their kids don’t want him out, they think he should serve the rest of his life. I mean, do you understand that point of view, too, or do you think he should be let out?>>Sure, I do. But he’s a hundred and almost 101 years old. You know what I mean? I think he has served his life. You know, I mean, he’s a century old. You know, he’s served his life. Let him go. Yeah, let him go.>>Do you think you need to be in here?>>No, I don’t need to be here. I need to be at home on the farm. That’s where I was born and raised. That’s all I know.>>These people decided. today they will be arrested…>>I know that I’m being surveilled…>>People are not getting the care that they need>>This is a crime against humanity…>>Hands up!>>Don’t shoot!>>Hands up!>>Don’t shoot!>>What do we want?>>Justice!>>When do we want it?>>Now!>>…communicate,,,>>They’re running towards the base…>>…explosions going off… we’re not quite sure what…>>Get em’ how you need?>>To watch more episodes of the Emmy Award winning series Fault Lines, check your local listings or visit aljazeera.com >>Fishkill correctional facility – 70 miles north of New York City. To address the needs of its growing elderly prison population, New York built the nation’s first Unit for the Cognitively Impaired. All these inmates have dementia. Their average age is 63 and many have Alzheimers. We’ve joined the founder and director of the unit, Dr. Edward Sottile, as he does his rounds. Fault Lines is the first television crew to be allowed here. [KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK]>>Mr. Turner…How are you? How are you feeling today? Today Dr. Sottile checks on 59 year old Chris Turner. Serving a sentence for kidnapping and sodomy, he’s also being punished for punching a nurse in the stomach. How are you doing with your arm motions?>>They seem to be a lot better now that you mention it…>>He came to us a couple of years ago with Huntington’s Chorea. That is a genetic disease that is gradually progressive and the patient has these movements that are purposeless-he can’t control his movement. And eventually, what happens is it affects his ability to swallow. And eventually, they deteriorate, they lose weight and they die.>>This unit houses 30 beds – and it’s almost always full.>>Mr. Johnson…>>Yes sir…>>How are you?>>Fine,thank you sir.>>How are you doing today? In the outside world, Inmate Robert Johnson was a heavy gambler…>>Donald Trump flew me all over the world – Hong Kong and all over…>>You have to be kidding>> Oh yeah…I’m not kidding you…I his private jet. – …until his wife cancelled his credit line at the casinos.>>Cause I promised her before I left the house, I would not use my credit line. I keep my word… But she didn’t tell me I couldn’t say I had a credit line.>>OK>>Now he claims he doesn’t remember shooting at her with a rifle. Which raises the question, if prisoners with dementia can’t remember the crimes they committed, how can they be rehabilitated?>>I had the same question. I can’t control that. But not being able to control that, the best that we can do, as physicians and healthcare providers is to manage them in a way that is humane, that’s compassionate, and the only way we can do that is by understanding their disease.>>As the prison population in America continues to age, other states will undoubtedly need units like this one to look after inmates with deteriorating mental capacity, but at 100 thousand dollars a year per inmate, where is the money going to come from? At present, no one seems to have the answer. Three years ago Larry White was released from prison. He’d served a 32 year sentence for armed robbery and felony homicide. He’s 72 now. After so long inside, he has struggled to adapt to life on the outside.>>I would get on the subway and I was so self-conscious that I would break out into a cold sweat. Because it seemed to me that everybody knew that this guy had just come out of prison, that everyone was staring at me. And I would say “What the (bleep) are you looking at? What the (bleep) is the matter?” (laughs)…You can’t do that…>>While locked-up Larry built social networks and programs for prisoners – trying to change the system from within.>>So I organized other prisoners first of all to change the conditions and to oppose how the guards and administration was treating us. That became a movement and it spread from one prison to another.>>Now, Larry is trying to continue that same work from the other side of the fence – advocating for compassionate release for older inmates.>>I’m a firm believe that anybody can change. Now it may take some people longer than others to change. Some people will die before they do change. It’s just that they didn’t live long enough to change. But my whole life now is geared to going back to help those I left behind. That’s my life. I would feel that loss if I couldn’t go back at all…>>It’s to the point that even though you’re out, it’s still in you.>>Yeah, I miss it. I do. I don’t tell people that, but I do.>> Protesters are gatherering…>>There’s an air of tension right now…>>…crowd chanting for democracy…>>This is another signifigant development>>We have an exclusive story tonight, and we go live to… >>Unlike Larry, many prisoners won’t make it out alive. Thousands of inmates will die behind bars in the United States this year. Lewis Young is afraid that he may be one of them. Diagnosed with kidney cancer, Lewis awaits his sentence in the hospital wing of Philadelphia’s Detention Center.>>To have cancer, to be in jail, and not to be around your family. You know, it’s real scary.>>In lieu of family, Lewis has Phyllis Taylor. She’s a correctional chaplain and has developed the hospice program here to help comfort dying prisoners.>>My hope is that if it’s not possible to release the elders and to release the dying into society, that the prisons and jails become home-like. [PRAYING]>>She popped out of the clear blue. She’s like an angel to me right. And I started getting my proper medication, you know, they started giving me morphine…>>Phyllis works with dozens of other dying patients across the state of Pennsylvania. She believes everyone should be allowed to die with dignity.>>A lot of people would say, look they broke the law. They deserve to be there and if they die there, then that’s the choices they made.>>And I would say back ‘each person has value. And there was something redemptive in each person. That nobody’s a throw-away person. This is my community. I’m always going to be behind bars. I’m always going to be there. How can I help at least one other person so my life has meaning?>>Well they call us OG’s OG’s…Original Gangsters… [LAUGHS]>>At 59 Kevin Bartley is a member of the Lifer’s Group at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York. He is serving 15 years to life for his role in a murder during a convenience store robbery.>>We had a Republican governor, that ran on crime and punishment and when he came in he said he didn’t want no one with a violent crime to be released and that was the message he sent throughout the parole department and they took that very seriously.>>Kevin has earned privileges at the prison, he works freely in the storehouse bringing in goods from the outside world. He’s been told that he is a perfect candidate for release but he’s been denied parole every time he has gone before the board, instead he keeps getting “deuced”.>>Two years or deuce is the max they can hold you. I’ve been deuced 8 times. So I’m part of the 16 year over the minimum club.>>When’s your next one?>>My next one is in November 2011.>>Is that going to be your year?>>That’s going to be my year. That’s going to be my year. 31 years in the penitentiary and I will leave.>>Kevin has used his time inside to better himself. He’s received a master’s degree in theology, learned sign language while working with deaf inmates.>>Keeping people incarcerated who are community ready. Ready to go out here and be an asset to the community. To me it’s crazy. Why don’t you release us now while we’re still healthy and able to contribute? Don’t wait until we lose a leg or an arm or our minds…>>So while a crisis that few seem willing to face expands to alarming proportions, Kevin and thousands of other older inmates like him will continue to grow old behind bars.>>You have more people locked up per capita than anywhere else in the civilized world, how can you do that? And you’re always crying about how much money it costs. It’s not solving your problems.>>We have to treat these people as human beings. They are human beings. And they deserve compassion, dignity and respect. And if you treat these people with that, then I think you’re doing the right thing. And I think that’s the reason why we’re here.>>You know you’re in a place where loneliness will kill you. Loneliness…Even though I’m in an institution with 500 other guys, I’m still lonely. You’re still lonely. Lonely inside.