Reflections on Being an Older Adult in Prison

By Karen Kopera-Frye, Mary Taylor Harrison, Josette Iribarne, Liz Dampsey, Michelle Adams, Tammy Grabreck, Tara McMullen, Kenneth Peak and William Harrison.

Published by The International Journal of Aging and Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since the U.S. imprisons more individuals per capita than any other nation, an increasing number of inmates are considered “old” or 50+ years. The present study examined the reflections of 111 older inmates residing in prison. The inmates were asked what it was like to be an older adult in prison. Qualitative thematic analyses revealed themes of negative and positive emotional affect, loss of autonomy, and wasting years. Erikson’s lifespan theory suggests that generativity and ego integrity are critical life goals in late adulthood, while Lawton’s person–environment fit model highlights the stressful nature of the environmental context. However, resilience and adaptation, coupled with generativity-focused pursuits were noted by the inmates, presumably through their participation in the True Grit prison program.

Keywords: Older Adult Inmates, Elderly Prisoners, Resilience and Generativity Among Older Inmates, Erikson’s Theory and Older Inmates, Identity of Older Inmates, Nevada’s True Grit Program, Geriatric Health among Inmates, Lawton’s Person-Environment Fit and Inmates

Aging and Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.27-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 615.351KB).

Dr. Karen Kopera-Frye

Biedenharn Endowed Chair in Gerontology & Professor of Gerontology, Institute of Gerontology, Department of Gerontology, Sociology, and Political Science, University of Louisiana at Monroe, Monroe, USA

Dr. Karen Kopera-Frye received her Ph.D. in Psychology (Clinical and Developmental) from Wayne State University (WSU). She earned her M.A., Specialization in Aging, and B.A. in Psychology also from WSU in Detroit, MI. She completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. She has taught at four prior higher education institutions, recently arriving from University of Nevada-Reno Social Work to University of Louisiana at Monroe in Fall 2009. Dr. Kopera-Frye holds the Joseph A. Biedenharn Endowed Chairship in Gerontology and is a Professor in Gerontology. Her areas of specialization include: working with ethnically diverse elders, primarily Native Americans and African Americans, health promotion among older adults, needs assessment and evaluation, substance abuse among older adults, older adult inmates, and rural health issues. Additionally, she is working on projects involving intergenerational intervention programming for children at risk for learning disabilities in elementary schools and truant teens.

Dr. Mary Taylor Harrison

Staff Psychologist, Northern Nevada Correctional Center, Carson City, USA

Josette Iribarne

Mental Health Counselor II, Rural Regional Center, Carson City, Nevada, USA

Liz Dampsey

Fielding Graduate University, USA

Michelle Adams

Fielding Graduate University, USA

Tammy Grabreck

Fielding Graduate University, USA

Tara McMullen

Doctoral Student, University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA

Dr. Kenneth Peak

Professor, Criminal Justice, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, USA

Dr. William Harrison

Northern Nevada Correctional Center, Carson City, USA