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02 June 2014

Blog: Prison for old people can be double punishment

Some older people have committed serious crimes and it is important that justice is done, whether or not someone is aged 18 or 80. But imprisonment for many old, disabled people can amount to a double punishment.

In this blog Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust highlights the challenges faced by older people in prison.

People aged over 60 are now the fastest growing age group in prison in England and Wales.

As of last summer there were over 10,000 people aged 50 and over in prison, representing 12% of the total prison population.

Many of this group have additional support needs, but caring for wheelchair-bound, doubly incontinent, often demented people is beyond what can be reasonably expected of prison staff.

One older prisoner who had bladder trouble told the Prison Reform Trust that when he mentioned wetting his bedclothes to an officer he laughed, and that the younger men and officers started teasing him about his body smell and the stench in his cell.

He said he couldn’t get his wheelchair through the door of his room and he had to try and get from the entrance to his bed.

The Prison Service has a duty to comply with equalities legislation, but is struggling to cope.

In its recent report on older people in prison, the Justice Committee recommended that older and disabled prisoners should no longer be held in establishments that cannot meet their basic needs, and nor should they be released back into the community without adequate care and support.

The ‘disgraceful’ lack of provision for essential social care in prison, highlighted by the Committee, reflects the findings of a Prison Reform Trust report ‘Doing Time: Good Practice with Older People in Prison’.

Based on a survey of prison staff, it found that 93% of respondents made no mention of any social services involvement in their establishment.

The Care Bill currently before Parliament will for the first time introduce a statutory framework for the delivery of social care in prisons.

Solutions lie not in adapting totally unsuitable, outdated prison accommodation; but in secure homes for the elderly, family and community support, and the proper engagement of social care services.