They can’t manage the stairs, so they can’t exercise, or go to classes. They’re afraid to shower in case they fall. The ones with dementia don’t even know where they are. Is this any way to deal with elderly offenders?
A combination of harsh sentencing policies and an ageing population has produced a startling effect: prisons are now the UK’s largest provider of residential care for frail and elderly men in England and Wales and are increasingly turning into hospices, providing end-of-life care for older prisoners and even managing their deaths. Prisons have adjusted to this new role in a disorganised fashion, with inadequately trained officers struggling to cope with limited resources in buildings designed to hold healthy young men.
In the first report on older prisoners by the prisons and probation ombudsman published on 20th June 2017, Nigel Newcomen reveals that the number of prisoners over 60 has tripled in 15 years. He also says there will be 14,000 prisoners aged over 50 by 2020, amounting to 17% of the total prison population, up from 13% in 2014.
The Care Act 2014 clarified that local authorities are responsible for assessing the care needs of older prisoners and providing support. This legislation, along with national and international expectations that prisoners should be able to access a level of care equal to that in the community, are positive developments. However, faced with such a rapid increase in older prisoners and without a properly resourced and coordinated strategy for this group, an already stretched prison system is struggling to meet need.