Author Kathleen A. O’Shea Speaks About Women Aging in Prison


Author Kathleen A. O’Shea Speaks About Women Aging in Prison

March 09, 2011

In celebration of international Women's Day, Lasell hosted a talk by author and 2000 Pulitzer Prize nominee Kathleen O'Shea who spoke about her recent research on women aging in prisons.

The talk on March 8th, which was co-sponsored by the Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies, the Donahue Institute, and the Beccharia Society, was attended by students, faculty and staff as well as guests from Framingham State Prison.

O'Shea, a former nun, independent social worker, conducts research on women prisoners with an emphasis on women on death row. As a backdrop for her presentation, O'Shea displayed a photo collection of female nonviolent offenders in prison across the U.S. who are currently serving life sentences or life without parole.

She began by telling the story of an 82 year-old woman who was imprisoned for life plus 25 years and often is confused about where she is. This is just one of many issues elderly women behind bars face from day to day, O'Shea said.

"One woman couldn't eat for three days because young kids [inmates] hid her wheelchair. She couldn't get to the next building to eat because they wouldn't tell her where it was," O'Shea said.

Another growing problem with prisons nationwide, O'Shea said, is how officials address the health problems that their elderly prisoners encounter.

With long-term sentences for many offenders, many states are now realizing they must pay for proper healthcare for these inmates for the rest of their lies.

"Nobody thought ahead of time that if you sentence a 40 year-old to a long-term sentence in prison, they're going to die there. But they're going to pay for that," she said.

According to O'Shea's research, prisons now have important decisions to make with limited health care funding. O'Shea said prison officials sometimes must choose between health care for a 20 year-old with a longer life span or an 85 year-old who may dies within a year or two. Often, prison officials are not trained in health care and must rely solely on personal morals for decisions such as these, she added.

O'Shea is the author of three books about female offenders/females on death row, including Female Offenders: An Annotated Bibliography (1997) and Women On The Row: Revelations From Both Sides of the Bars.

By Emmalyn Anderson