UC Berkeley's Behind Bars

Three Strikes

Berkeley's News21 project explains California's three strikes law and its effect on the prison population.

Sick Inmates

Inmates age and sicken as life sentences take their toll.

Death sentence

Explore life after death for California prisoners and their families.

For a growing number of California prisoners, a life sentence means growing old, falling sick and eventually dying – all behind bars. The number of inmates 55 and older has more than doubled in the last decade and is expected to double again this decade, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. This increase in older inmates is due in part to legislation resulting in longer prison sentences, such as the three strikes law for habitual felony offenders. Aging prisoners require more expensive medical care and, now more than ever, men are dying in custody.

About 2 to 4 percent of older inmates re-offend, compared to almost 70 percent of all inmates, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Experts agree that it is inefficient to house the very sick and very old in prison.