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Is keeping elderly behind bars financially sound?

Elderly inmates can cost 2-3 times as much

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – How old is too old to be in prison? A watchdog group says some older inmates may be costing the state a bundle and doing little for public safety. But releasing some older inmates is just one idea to cut the cost of incarceration.

There are 102,000 inmates in Florida prisons. Health care costs are expected to go from $280 million this year to $369 million next year.

Florida is housing just under 6,000 inmates over the age of 60. Make no mistake -- some are violent murderers or child molesters, but others are not. Barbara Dunn, 80, was sentenced last year to 10 years for DUI manslaughter.

Eva Verner, 82, is more than halfway through her 15-year sentence for fraud.

Florida Taxwatch is suggesting that keeping some elderly behind bars may not be financially sound.

"When we implement some sort of elderly parole option, it's allowing some of these non-violent offenders to really get out of a prison system that is not providing a positive return on investment for our communities," said Morgan McCord, with Florida Taxwatch.

Taxpayers spend an average of $17,000 a year to keep someone in prison. The elderly can cost two or three times as much.

State lawmakers have limited what latitude judges have through sentencing guidelines. Taxwatch says there needs to be an alternative.

"We're talking about a revenue, a cost estimating tool -- something that would provide not only what the cost of incarnation would be, but the cost of alternatives are," said Florida Taxwatch Research Director Robert Wissert. "

Taking 10 percent of the inmates out of prison and putting ankle bracelets on them would save $120 million a year.

"That's $120 million a year that can be reinvested in our communities, to be given to education, student performance," McCord said.

Florida will spend $280 million on prison health care alone. The entire system costs $2 billion a year to run.