Missouri prisons seek to help aging inmates

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JEFFERSON CITY- There is an increased number of aging inmates in the United States.

As an inmate ages, their medical needs increase, and Missouri is working to find more ways to accommodate those who need medical assistance in prison.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons spent more than $1 billion on health-care expenses from 2006- 2013.

The Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi said Missouri prisons have also seen increase in health care expenditures.

“Just the fact that the population has risen means there more offenders in the population that have severe medical needs. It has a lot to do with their lifestyle on the outside. Many of them are substance abusers, alcohol abusers, etc., which brings the onset of older diseases earlier than most people,” Lombardi said. 

Lombardi said mandatory minimum sentences also put people in prison longer, and they’re there in prison at a later age.

“Mandatory minimum sentences and no parole sentences place a lot of our offenders in the prison system, and they will then live their life out in the prison because of that.”

Five Missouri prisons now have enhanced-care units.

Enhanced-care units are places in the prison in which inmates who require daily medical assistance can live.

“It gives the offender the opportunity to get out and around with their offender helper,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said prisoners volunteer to help because they feel they could be in a similar state in a few years. 

The enhanced-care units are helpful because in “many ways some people pre-hospice,” Lombardi said.

Missouri Hospice and Palliative Care Association (MHPCA) CEO Jane Moore brought the idea of developing a hopsice training curriculum for Missouri prisoners to Lombardi.

The program would allow interested inmates to help their fellow offenders as they pass away and during the last moments of their lives. 

Moore said after the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Lombardi approved the idea, she contacted hospices around the state and gathered interested volunteers to help develop the hospice training program.

Moore said volunteers first met in March of 2013 and held their first training session for prisoners at Jefferson City Correctional Center in May of 2015. 

"It was very rewarding for all those that put the time and work into this program," stated Moore in an email to a KOMU 8 News reporter.

MHPCA contines to coordinate the trainings, create certificates and put together evaluations.

There are now hospice-trained offenders at Jefferson City Correctional Center, the Women’s Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Tipton Correctional Center in Tipton and Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston.

“It has a positive impact on the morale of the prisons, it maybe makes it a little bit safer when they know the fact that when their time comes they will be helped,” said Lombardi.

The Department of Corrections plans to continually set up more enhanced-care units in prisons throughout Missouri.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new comments from Jane Moore.