Obituaries

Advocate for the early release of elderly prisoners dies

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When Bill Cosby, the 81-year-old comedian, was sentenced to prison in September after a jury convicted him of three counts of sexual assault, he joined a growing number of inmates housed in state and federal prisons across the country who are elderly and infirm and who are very expensive to house and care for because of their health challenges and frailties.

Cosby, who is legally blind, is serving his 3-t0-10-year sentence in SCI Phoenix, a newly opened state prison, near Philadelphia. The prison employs a medical staff to attend to the needs of Cosby and other elderly inmates.

Mujahid Farid, a former prison inmate and founder of an organization that advocated for the early release of aging prisoners, was one the first persons to shine a light on this issue.

Farid, who was released from prison in 2011,  served 33 years for manslaughter and the attempted murder of a New York City police officer, founded Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) with a fellowship from the George Soros Foundation.

In 2013, when Farid received his fellowship, the Soros Foundation said of him:  “Farid is investigating potential mechanisms for increasing the release rate for incarcerated aging people in New York, such as potential reforms of the state’s parole system.”

His work helped reframe the image of aging inmates from being called “lifers” to having them called “elderly prisoners.”

He also was a staff member of the Harlem-based Correctional Association New York, an organization founded in 1844 to advocate for a more humane and effective criminal justice system and a more just and equitable society.

Farid died November 20 at his home in the Bronx, N.Y. of pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

He shined the spotlight on a major unseen and rarely discussed issue now confronting society.

The nation’s aging prison population continues to spiral out of control.

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew 94 times faster than the overall prison population.

From 1981 to 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 and over increased from 8,853 to 124,900. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 400,000, an increase of 4,400 percent from 1981, according to the publication Aging Behind Bars.

Elderly inmates suffer from health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, and blindness, requiring  more medical attention and longer and more frequent hospitalizations outside of the prison. Prison elders who need more care outside of the prison system, represent 72 percent of all healthcare costs spent on aging prisoners.

Farid argued aging inmates are unlikely to commit crimes that return them to prison.

The growth of the aging inmate population is a consequence of mass incarceration and strict sentencing laws.

Farid, who was born William Howard Jr., founded RAPP based on his own experience as inmate who became a senior citizen behind bars, according to the New York Times.

Farid, who came from a two-parent family, was a remarkable guy.

In prison, he earned four college degrees; an associate arts degree in business; a bachelor in arts and sciences from Syracuse University, a masters in sociology from State University of New York at New Paltz and a master’s in theology from New York Theological Seminary.

He also learned sign language, so he could assist hearing-impaired inmates, and he earned a certificate in HIV/ AIDS counseling

 

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