Life, Health Care, Prison and Cutting Costs

Sundiata Acoli

Health care costs are soaring and have become unaffordable for many families.It is no different for the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) except they’re required by law to provide medical care to their wards.

Altho much of prison health care is inadequate, many of its youthful captives can at least squeak by on what’s presently provided. Not so fort hose over 50 years of age, most of whom are beset by the common old age infirmities: high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes,clogged arteries, heart disease, cancer and the need for body part replacements.

California has the largest prison population in the U.S. plus the highest health care cost and spends $98,000 to $138,000 per year for each prisoner over 50.(1) An August 11, ’09 NY Times editorial noted that…Just days before a Chino, California, prison riot, a 3-judge panel ordered the state to reduce its 150,000+ prison population by about 40,000 in the next 2 years as the only way to bring its prison health care system up to constitutional standards…The editorial concluded:” The riot at Chino and the federal court’s ruling contain the same message for states everywhere: They must come up with a smart way to reduce prison populations and they must do it quickly.”

More prisoners today are serving life sentences than ever before. They are called “Lifers,” their numbers have quadrupled since 1984 to over 140,000 and they’ve become a major driving force behind the explosion of health care cost in prisons.(2) Many Lifers are over 50 and most are parole eligible while the remainder are doing life without parole (LWOP). One reason for the ballooning of life sentences result from the 3-strikes you’re out, mandatory minimums, 100 to 1 ratio of crack to powder cocaine sentences, children sentenced to LWOP (in clear violation of international law) and other harsh edicts of the law and order climate of the last several decades.

The other reason for the balloon is the unrectified racial residue that has accompanied America’s Justice System since ante bellum days. Two-thirdsof prisoners serving life sentences are Latino and Black and nearly half of those serving life are Black. In 13 states Blacks make up 60% of the Lifers. In NY state only 17% of prisoners serving life are White.(3) Many Lifers over 50 have already done 20, even 30 years or more and some are 60, even 70 years old and more. Crime has been decreasing for the last decade or two and ALL indicators show that elderly prisoners, once released, rarely commit another crime and are least likely to return to prison.

So it is self-evident that the smartest and quickest way to begin reducing prison health care cost and prison overcrowding is to release aged and infirmed Lifers and LWOPs whose age + years served = a fixed number(say 70 years,for example) which could be further reduced in proportion to the seriousness of the Lifer’s illness. Such are lease process would not only be smart but ethical and prisoner’s families, loved ones and the public would be even wiser to urge their Congressperson to put such a Prison Cost Cutting bill into effect immediately.


  1. Moore, Solomon; Study Finds Record Numbers of Inmates Serving Life, N.Y. Times, July, 2009, P. A20.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.

Sundiata Acoli is a 72 year old prisoner at FCI Otisville, NY, who is sentencedto life with the possibility of parole, afflicted with commonold age infirmities and has been imprisoned 36 years to date. He was arrested for the May 2nd, 1973 NJ Turnpike shooting incident in which he shot no one but merely managed to survive but in which his passenger, Zayd Shakur, and a New Jersey trooper, Werner Foerster, were killed and another trooper, James Harper, was wounded as was Sundiata’s other passenger, Assata Shakur, who was at the time the object of a nationwide “woman hunt” and she was captured. Sundiata was also wounded, then captured 40 hrs later. Sundiata and both his passengers were members of the Black Panther Party at the time. For those reasons, and because Assata escaped prison long ago, the Parole board has twice denied Sundiata parole claiming he’s likely to commit another crime. Sundiata comes up for parole hearing again in Feb. 2010 and people concerned about justice are urged to send letters,cards and signature petitions to:

Chairwoman Volette C. Ross
NewJersey State Parole Board
P.O.Box 862
TrentonNJ 08625

Saying in effect that: 36 years is enough. Sundiata Acoli NJ#54859/Fed#39794-066 has long ago fullfilled all requirements for parole and is too old, infirmed and is highest unlikely to commit another crime so I urge you to release Sundiata Acoli on parole.

Thank you.

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