Hard Time At A Ripe Old Age

It's one of the toughest prisons in one of the toughest states: Huntsville, Texas. It's maximum security, and everyone here does hard time -- for a long time, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger for Eye on America.

Tucked away in the corner of the penitentiary, Troy Turman and 57 other geriatric inmates are serving what amounts to life sentences regardless of the penalties imposed on them by the courts.

Despite their age and their physical condition, these men are still kept in a maximum security prison. This is one of the most expensive lock-ups in the state. It costs more than a million dollars a year to house these men, if they stay relatively healthy.

That's too much for Texas State Senator John Whitmire.

"It's nuts to think that you have to have those kind of sick individuals in the most secure facility in the prison system," says Whitmire.

There are about 31,000 elderly inmates in prisons across the country. There are men who are on dialysis, who are double amputees, and men who have heart problems, stomach problems and more.

When inmates grow old, the price of punishment skyrockets. Medical expenses are four times higher for geriatric inmates than they are for younger prisoners.

Whitmire believes the state could save millions of dollars if these prisoners were put in a less expensive, less secure facility and enrolled in Medicare so the federal government pays their medical expenses.

"Maybe we can have public safety, save vast amounts of money, and apply that money towards preventing the next crime," says Whitmire.

Looking at these old men now, it's hard to remember that they are paying the price for a violent past. Take 72-year-old Charlie Coleman.

"Since I've been here, I've lost a kidney," he says. But Coleman still has his memory, and still recalls the day he killed a man.

"I hit that holster, boom, one time. What happened, he hit the floor and started trembling," Coleman remembers.

That was actually Charlie Coleman's second murder. He committed it while he was on parole for killing his first victim.

"Do we really want to say just because you're old, so what if you killed two people, we're gonna move you over to the Green Acres?" asks Diane Clements, head of the victims' rights group Justice For All.

She isn't so worried about these inmates. She's afraid the state won't keep a close enough eye on who is sent to what amounts to hardened nursing homes.

"Let me tell you something," Clements continues. "We're tough. We're as tough as anyone in the nation. But we gotta continue to try to be smart when it comes to fighting crime. Being smart fighting crime means using your resources in the most effective manner."

And hitmire says the state is wasting resources on these men, who might still be evil but are no longer dangerous.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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