Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seniors as Criminals & Convicts

National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast a news & analysis story during Morning Edition on Tuesday, November 21, 2006, entitled "Jury Convicts Elderly California Driver of Manslaughter", by Mandalit del Barco, which you can read or hear here. It reports about the sentencing of an elderly man upon ten manslaughter convictions by a jury:
Three years ago, 89-year-old George Weller drove his car through the Santa Monica Farmers Market, killing 10 people and injuring more than 60. Weller's attorneys argued that it was an accident. But the jury still convicted him on 10 counts of manslaughter.
The criminal convictions in October, 2006, were widely publicized. For example, see: "89-Year-Old Found Guilty Of Manslaughter -- Man Killed 10 People And Injured More Than 70 In 2003 Car Crash At Farmer's Market", published October 20, 2006, by CBS News, found here.

The sentence handed down to the defendant (in his absence from the court proceeding) upon his multiple convictions was described by CBS News in its article, dated November 20, 2006, entitled "George Weller Gets Probation in Crash Case", found here:
Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said he agreed completely with the jury that convicted Weller last month of ten counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

But he said Weller's health problems that include severe heart disease would make the 89-year-old a burden on prison authorities and taxpayers, and that imprisonment would most likely kill him.

"Sending Mr. Weller to jail or prison would be a burden on the prison authorities; it would require the taxpayers to pay the substantial costs of Mr. Weller's medical care; and it would most likely kill Mr. Weller. None of that is right, and it makes no sense, so I will place Mr. Weller on probation. I believe it's better to do that, and require him to comply with financial conditions that will assist the victims in recovering their losses," Johnson said
"Aging" is generally discussed by Wikipedia here:
Ageing or aging is the process of becoming older. This traditional definition was recently challenged in the new "Handbook of the Biology of Aging" (Academic Press, 2006), where ageing was specifically defined as the process of system's deterioration with time, thus allowing for existence of non-ageing systems (when "old is as good as new"), and anti-ageing interventions (when accumulated damage is repaired). This article focuses on the social, cognitive, cultural, and economic effects of ageing. The biology of ageing is treated in detail in senescence. Ageing is an important part of all human societies reflecting the biological changes that occur, but also reflecting cultural and societal conventions.
As evidenced by the prosecution of Mr. Weller, the mere act of driving a vehicle becomes affected by aging. Pennsylvania recognizes this, and treats drivers over the age of 50 differently in its periodic license renewal process. See: "Steer Clear"; Steer Clearly, Too.

But even if it is the natural process of aging that causes one to violate a law or to create harm, an elderly person still may be convicted of a crime; and the punishment imposed might be imprisonment.

The National Criminal Justice Reference Center (
NCJRC) is focused on crime & corrections. It is a federally-funded resource, offering justice & substance abuse information to support research, policy, & program development worldwide.

According to its website, found here, NCJRC offers services & resources related to crime, victim assistance, & public safety, to inform policymakers, practitioners, researchers, educators, community leaders, & the general public. It offers a range of services & resources, including:
  • Search Questions & Answers -- Access hundreds of questions related to juvenile and criminal justice, victim assistance, drug policy, & NCJRS services.
  • Register online -- Learn about new publications, grants, & funding opportunities, and other news & announcements.
  • NCJRS Abstracts Database -- Research one of the largest criminal & juvenile justice libraries & databases in the world, hosted by NCJRS.
  • Justice Events -- Search for conferences based on respective focus areas, geographical location, or dates.

Weekly, NCJRC draws national attention to important information on various topic areas. This week, NCJRC lists various articles regarding older offenders & aging prisoners.

NCJRC noted articles that were published in August, 2006, in the United Kingdom, in a compendium entitled "Ageing, Crime and Society", edited by Azrini Wahidin & Maureen Cain, which address issues of crime and the elderly perpetrator or prisoner:

  • "Unregarded Age in Corners Thrown": An Answer to the Issues of Healthcare for Older Prisoners (Pp. 193-209 -- See NCJ-216056) NCJ Number: 216067 Author: Debby Jaques -- Abstract
  • Managing the Special Needs of Ageing Prisoners in the United States (Pp. 210-229 -- See NCJ-216056) NCJ Number: 216068 Author: Ron Aday -- Abstract
  • Older Offenders and Community Penalties: A Framework for Thinking (Pp. 230-247 -- See NCJ-216056) NCJ Number: 216069 Author: Gaynor Bramhall -- Abstract
  • Towards a Better Government for Older People and the Policy Implications in the Criminal Justice System (Pp. 248-263 -- See NCJ-216056) NCJ Number: 216070 Author: Mervyn Eastman -- Abstract

A search of the NCJRC website reveals other resources involving the elderly & crime that focus, instead, on the elderly person as a subject of crime -- not as a perpetrator or prisoner, but as a:

  • Target of "scams" or financial crimes
  • Subject of personal abuse or violent crimes
  • Witness or complaintant in criminal prosecutions
  • Victim needing rehabilitation -- financially, physically & emotionally -- after a crime

Still, as to elderly offenders, at least, "Punishment is the last and the least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the prevention of crime.” -- John Ruskin (English Writer, 1819-1900)

Note: Thanks to Leo L. Dunn, Assistant Director, Office of Policy, Legislative Affairs & Communications, of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, who suggested this topic.