Publication Date

Winter 2022


The “graying” of the United States prison system is a well-documented phenomenon that describes the aging of the population currently held in U.S. state and federal prisons. This is generally attributed to the large number of individuals who are aging in place in prisons around the country due to long sentences and restrictive parole practices. Less well-known or well-characterized is the fact that the U.S.’s justice-involved population outside of prisons is also “graying”—that the demographics of people who are being arrested, jail detained, transferred to prisons on new criminal convictions, and monitored under community surveillance programs are also changing to include a higher proportion of seniors.

This article will use the relevant literature and data from jurisdictions around the country to begin to quantify and describe this aging, justice-involved population. It puts forward the hypothesis that there is a generational cohort of individuals, the “Most Incarcerated Generation,” who entered early adulthood during the period of mass incarceration’s expansion, and who have remained justice-involved even as they age into elderhood. This population is not being effectively diverted from contact with the criminal legal system or reintegrated effectively into the community upon release from correctional facilities. As these individuals age and acquire an increasing burden of health issues and age-related impairment, their needs become more complex and they are chronically underserved by the institutional circuit (jails, prisons, shelters, hospitals) where they are most concentrated. This article also proposes potential interventions that system leaders and policy makers might pursue to better meet the needs of this vulnerable population, and to prevent their spending their final years incarcerated.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Sebastian Hoyos-Torres, who helped with the analysis and visualizations present in this article, and Alex Carnevale, who provided invaluable editing assistance.

Included in

Law Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.