Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Release for Aging Prisoners: A Letter From Buckingham Prison

Photo by Tim Gruber, Kentucky State Reformatory

I received the following letter  recently regarding Virginia’s Geriatric Parole Statute (Code § 53.1-40.01.:

Dear Mr. Yoder:

My name is Stephano “Steve” Colosi, Jr. #1037581,  and I am writing you as a result of receiving a letter from my brother in Christ and dear friend Pete Mahoney.

Pete suggested I inform you of my project, which has to do with the gross under-utilization of geriatric release under the above referenced statute. The statute is designed for the release of inmates sixty years old after ten years of incarceration, and inmates sixty-five years old and older with a minimum of five years of confinement.

Currently I am incarcerated at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Virginia 23936. Each day I am in the company of many inmates over 60 and up to 80 years old who are obviously incapable of being a danger to anyone. Often times the Department of Corrections keeps inmates so long that their support system (friends, relatives, potential employers) are deceased or out of business, and unable to offer the safety net required to facilitate reintegration into society.

In my housing unit alone,  we have an 80-year-old inmate who is nearly blind, a 74-year-old who recently returned from MCV after congenital heart failure (he has been locked up for 50 years), and another man who is a 74-year-old Israeli expatriate who needs a cane to walk, and whose family makes the trek from Israel once a year for a three-hour visit!

I could go on and on, as these few examples are only the tip of the iceberg. My estimate is that there are, at minimum, 200 men at Buckingham alone who meet the criteria for Geriatric Release.

Admittedly, many of them are in for violent crimes or other crimes that would shock the senses. However, after 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years, I suspect that society has extracted their pound of flesh. At some point the public must realize hat keeping folks locked up without end becomes a diminishing return for society, and the cost is astronomical at an average of $68,000 per year (compared to $24,000 for younger inmates).

Many localities have overcrowded jails, and plan new construction costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Why not release (with caveats) geriatric inmates, many of whom can be self-sufficient with family support, social security and/or VA benefits. For every geriatric inmate released, two teachers could be hired to benefit the public and help circumvent the cycle of young men going to prison.

State Senator Walter Stosch of Henrico County (Innsbrooke Centre, 4551 Cox Road, Suite 110, Glen Allen, VA 23060-0740) is an advocate of geriatric release utilization and was recently quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch stating that, “We can no longer afford the expense of keeping geriatric geriatric prisoners locked up at more than twice the rate of regular prisoners.”

I believe if the taxpayers were made aware of the condition that exists, they would respond favorably to the statute/law which has been in existence since 1995 but rarely used. At some point, Christian values must outweigh needless vengeance associated with the mantra of “tough on crime.”

Thank you for your time and effort on behalf of likely several thousand inmates in the Department of Corrections who would benefit by implementation of geriatric release, as well as their families and friends.

You might want to express your concerns to: 

State Senator Mark Obenshain at

Assembly Delegate Tony Wilt at

Here are two good articles on this issue:
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