UK prisons are failing to cope with the rapid growth in the number of older prisoners – partly caused by the increase in convictions for historic sexual offences – the Justice Committee has found in a new report that calls on the Ministry of Justice to develop a national strategy to provide for older prisoners effectively.
Sir Alan Beith MP Chair of the Justice Select Committee:
“The number of older prisoners is now very high and is likely to remain so. The growth of the older prison population and the severity of the needs of that population, warrant a national strategy in order to provide for them effectively.”
“Older and disabled prisoners should no longer be held in institutions which cannot meet their basic needs nor should they be released back into the community without adequate support. In one case we heard of a prisoner who was a wheelchair user being released from prison without a wheelchair.”
“We met some excellent prison officers and charity workers who are providing essential social care but an ad hoc system means that too often older prisoners have to rely on the goodwill of officers and their fellow inmates to fulfil the most basic of care needs.”
“Many older prisoners are currently being held in establishments that cannot meet their needs. The lack of provision for essential social care for older prisoners, the confusion about who should be providing it, and the failure of so many authorities to accept responsibility for it, have been disgraceful.”
Many of our prisons were built to house young fit men, but the growth in the number of older prisoners in the last decade has exposed the inadequacy of current provision for prisoners over 50. Poor accessibility, cramped conditions and inappropriate accommodation facilities in some prisons means the basic physical needs of older prisoners are not met. Suitable social care and mental health provision for older prisoners is also poor or non-existent in some parts of the prison estate.
The responsibility to adapt the prison environment so that it suits less able prisoners lies with a prison's senior management team and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The report recommends that NOMS conduct a comprehensive analysis of prisons' physical compliance with disability discrimination and age equality laws. NOMS should determine which prisons simply are not able to make the adaptation necessary to hold older prisoners and it should then no longer hold older or disabled prisoners in these institutions.
Sir Alan Beith MP said:
“It is inconsistent for the Ministry of Justice to recognise both the growth in the older prisoner population and the severity of their needs and not to articulate a strategy to properly deal with this. The Ministry of Justice should produce a national strategy for the care and appropriate regime for older prisoners to provide for minimum standards that produce effective and equitable care.”
Some prisons hold high numbers of older people in their establishments and have the incentive to develop an effective older prisoner policy and regime. Others do not, and the older prisoners who are held in these prisons are more likely to receive inequitable treatment as a result. The Committee does not believe there is a need for the expansion of segregated older prisoner units or wings. However, NOMS should ensure all prisons have an older prisoner policy that provides age specific regimes for older prisoners.
Assessment of health and social care needs on entry into prison - and subsequent review throughout sentence including upon release - should be provided for all prisoners who enter prison at an advanced age, and who age whilst in prison. NOMS should set out the minimum standards of care it expects for older prisoners with severe social care needs. All prisons should follow Department of Health guidelines and have a nurse lead for older prisoners. And NOMS should consider placing social workers in prisons to work with older prisoners and others with social care needs, as in the effective model at HMP Isle of Wight.
All older prisoners who are released after a long period of incarceration must have a resettlement and care plan. At present older prisoners are frequently released to no fixed abode undermining all work that has been made towards resettlement and doing nothing to assist older prisoners not to reoffend. The Government should bring forward proposals to ensure that, as in Wales, no prisoners are released to No Fixed Abode.
Older prisoners are the fastest growing group within the prison population. Those aged over 60 and those aged 50–59 are respectively the first and second fastest growing age groups in the prison population. There are several reasons for this growth. Prisoners are serving longer sentences, but more are now being convicted and sentenced to custody at an older age, including for historic offences that took place twenty or thirty years ago.
Older prisoners are most likely to be serving sentences for sexual offences and this is reflected in the long sentences that they serve. Between 2002 and 2012 there was a dramatic increase of 45% in the number of people convicted for sexual offences.
The number of people convicted at an older age has also increased. Between 2008 and 2012 there was an increase in the number of people convicted to immediate custody aged 50–59 of 45% and an increase of 46% in the number aged 60 and over.