Prisons and jails have become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with seven of the ten largest hotspots identified as state prisons and local jails. With the CDC having warned that older adults are at heightened risk for severe complications and death from COVID-19, readers have asked us: Just how many people in state prisons are older adults? We’ve answered this question — state by state — in a handy table below.

To prepare our table, we drew on the most recent age data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, 1991-2015. Age data for state prisons is broken down into categories, and older adults fall into the category of “55 and older.” Although outside of correctional facilities, the term “older adults” often refers to people 65 and older, incarceration itself shortens life expectancy and hastens physiological aging. So for the purposes of addressing how vulnerable different groups are to the coronavirus, it makes sense to consider adults 55 and older behind bars as “older adults.”

We found that, on average, more than 10% of people in state prisons are over the age of 55. Some state prison systems have much higher percentages of older adults, like in Montana, where over 17% of the state prison population is 55 years or older.

Regardless of their preexisting health conditions, all older adults are at greater risk for complications from COVID-19. As this virus threatens to turn their prison sentences into death sentences, states should use all possible strategies to release them to the care of their families.

The percentage and count of state prison population that is 55 and older, as well as total prison population, by state for the most recent year possible. Compiled by Prison Policy Initiative from National Corrections Reporting Program, 1991-2015 using year-end populations. For the number and percent of state prison populations 55 and older over time (1999-2015), see our spreadsheet, Percent of prison populations 55 and older, by state, 2013-2015 [xlsx].
StatePercent 55 and olderCount 55 and olderTotal populationYear
Ala.12.33%3,26626,4872015
Alaska10.48%3973,5972014
Ariz.9.38%3,97142,3522015
Ark.11.08%1,73415,6472015
Calif.13.07%16,826128,7172015
Colo.11.30%2,19119,3942015
Conn.7.91%89811,3592015
D.C.10.53%6415,4142014
Del.10.90%5685,2102015
Fla.12.91%12,84899,5322015
Ga.10.95%5,71752,1882015
Hawaii11.31%6695,9172015
Idaho10.74%7817,2702015
Ill.7.76%4,04148,1592014
Ind.8.72%2,40127,5352015
Iowa10.06%9449,3882015
Kans.10.92%1,0709,7952015
Ky.7.90%1,72921,8772015
La.11.51%4,07935,4342015
Maine10.81%2412,2302015
Mass.15.23%1,3919,1342015
Md.9.21%1,85020,0952015
Mich.11.66%5,03243,1712013
Minn.7.83%79510,1532015
Miss.9.43%1,75818,6482015
Mo.10.89%3,44731,6662015
Mont.17.34%4392,5312015
N. Dak.7.33%1261,7202014
N. Mex.9.51%6847,1952015
N.C.10.81%3,94736,5242015
N.H.14.86%4022,7052015
N.J.9.34%2,02121,6382015
N.Y.10.37%5,28950,9922015
Nebr.10.12%5355,2892015
Nev.12.36%1,64413,2992015
Ohio10.96%5,96954,4552015
Okla.10.68%3,11529,1562015
Oreg.12.11%1,75714,5032014
Pa.12.10%6,04950,0052015
R.I.9.45%2532,6782015
S. Dak.10.03%3453,4412015
S.C.10.29%2,19021,2882015
Tenn.8.87%2,74930,9782015
Tex.11.59%17,456150,6272015
Utah10.24%6476,3182015
Va.11.21%4,10636,6312015
Vt.10.61%1771,6682015
W. Va.11.98%7776,4872015
Wash.11.20%1,96717,5602015
Wis.10.48%2,37922,6952015
Wyo.12.81%3092,4132015