Prison Reform Trust endorses Justice Committee call for national strategy on older prisoners
Read our response to the Justice Committee report into older people in prison from Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.
Responding to the Justice Committee report into older people in prison, the Prison Reform Trust called for a national strategy across justice and health to address the rapidly growing numbers of older people behind bars. Commenting, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“Imprisonment of old, disabled people amounts to a double punishment. Caring for wheelchair-bound, doubly incontinent, often demented people is beyond what we can reasonably expect of prison staff. Solutions lie not in adapting totally unsuitable, outdated prison accommodation but in secure homes for the elderly, family and community support and the proper engagement of social care services.
The Prison Service has a duty to comply with equalities legislation but is struggling to cope. You do find individual staff members or governors, sometimes working with charities for the elderly, doing their best to respond to the needs of people who are growing old and dying in prison but this is not substitute for a national policy with the full engagement of health, social care and justice services.
We welcome the Committee’s recommendation that older and disabled prisoners should no longer be held in establishments that cannot meet their basic needs 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. Local government, adult social services and prison staff will need to work together to ensure the social care and safeguarding needs of older and disabled prisoners are recognised and met.”
Prisoners interviewed by Prison Reform Trust said:
I have bladder trouble especially at night and I often wet my clothes and bedding. I am very embarrassed about this and don’t want to be a nuisance. When I mentioned this to my officer he laughed and said that we all have problems like that as we get older. But now I’m wetting myself in the daytime and can’t get to the toilet quick enough in education because it is locked. Now some of the younger men and officers are teasing me about my body smell and the stench in my cell.
I can’t get my wheelchair through the door of my room and I have to try and get from the entrance to my bed. When it’s mealtime someone has to collect my food and bring it to me – I’ve been told that officers are not allowed to push me.
I never realised until I came into prison what the term ‘doing time’ meant. I’ve been marking time now for almost 30 years – ticking the days, months and then years off…. I’ve seen so many others come and go and although they say they will keep in touch when they get out, only one or two ever have…. The world I used to know has gone and my only view of the world is what I see on TV or read in the papers. All I have are the fading memories of a lonely childhood and my wild youthfulness of the 1940s and 50s…. I don’t know if any of my relatives are alive and I have no friends to visit me…. I increasingly feel I am slowly dying away– ‘dead man walking’ as the saying goes.
Due to overcrowding we now have to double-up in our cells. The younger guy who moved into my cell insisted on using the bottom bunk and that I had better move to the top one – or else. He took my mattress and I had to make do with an old one. Since then my hip joints have been keeping me awake most nights…. I am afraid to complain but did have a quiet word with Mr X [prison officer] but he told me to sort it out myself and not make an issue of it, otherwise it could be worse for me.
I committed my last offence to get back inside – I didn’t really do any crime – just couldn’t be bothered to turn up to see my probation officer, which I knew would get me recalled. Truth is I have no relations or friends on the outside and no interests – they’re all here. I have spent most of my life inside that by the time I was given my parole I had great difficulty surviving by myself. I was also getting so ill trying to cope… there wasn’t anybody there to help or support me. So now I’m in my 70s and back ‘home’ and this is where I’m going to die – not that I want to spend the end of my life in prison but what else is there for me?
This briefing paper aims to give older people in prison a voice. To develop more effective ways of working with older prisoners, an important first step is to hear directly from them.
This report presents the findings of a survey with staff working of older people in prisons in England and Wales. It highlights many excellent initiatives and encourages further development of good practice.