Page last updated at 01:44 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 02:44 UK

Older prisoners 'doubly punished'

Some prisons don't cater for the needs of elderly inmates

Older prisoners in England and Wales face a "double punishment" of poor treatment and conditions, says campaign group the Prison Reform Trust.

In a report, it says older inmates face bullying, isolation and discrimination by other prisoners and staff.

Prisoners aged over 60 are the fastest growing group in prisons, and the figures are expected to rise.

The government acknowledged the ageing prison population was a challenge, but said positive steps were being made.

He wasn't allowed any morphine to kill his pain and died a few days later in agony in his cell and all alone
Male prisoner

There are more than 6,000 men and about 300 women aged 50 and over in prisons in England and Wales, according to figures released earlier this year.

The number of male prisoners aged 60 and over has increased by more than 30% over the last 10 years.

There are about 450 prisoners over the age of 70.

The report by the trust, entitled Doing Time: the Experiences and Needs of Older people in Prison, was based on interviews with 78 male prisoners and 18 ex-prisoners, and two focus groups with women prisoners.

Health care

The report noted that there had been general improvements in the system since prison healthcare became the responsibility of the NHS in 2006.

But some inmates still found their health needs were not being addressed.

One man said he had bladder trouble but was locked in an education class during the day, without easy access to the lavatory - meaning he was wetting himself.

The report also highlights the difficulty of providing palliative care for the terminally ill. Moving prisoners to hospitals or hospices raises security issues.

One prisoner recalled how a fellow inmate with terminal cancer died in prison: "We sat with him in his cell when we could and helped him move.

"He wasn't allowed any morphine to kill his pain and died a few days later in agony in his cell and all alone."


Almost half of the male prisoners questioned for the report had experienced bullying by younger inmates. One complained that prison officers "turn a blind eye".

Some prisoners will die in prison but many of them will be released, and a fit and healthy person would integrate better into our society and be less of a burden
Francesca Cooney, Prison Reform Trust

Another prisoner told how he felt intimidated by his new cell-mate: "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 the old one. I 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."

Francesca Cooney, one of the authors of the report, says as the prison population becomes older, the health and social needs of elderly prisoners must be tackled.

She said: "Prison sentences are getting longer on average and the number of people on indefinite sentences is growing.

"The ageing prison population will increase. The prison services needs to have a strategy to deal with older offenders, and social services need to assess and resource care for older offenders."

She added: "We have a duty to provide these people with decency and respect.

"Some prisoners will die in prison but many of them will be released, and a fit and healthy person would integrate better into our society and be less of a burden."

Day centre

Prisons minister David Hanson acknowledged that an ageing prison population could create new challenges for staff, the prison regime and the delivery of health services.

He said: "The Prison Service has been working closely with the Department of Health to look at all issues surrounding the health and social care of older prisoners, and positive steps are being made."

Certain prisons have made special provisions for older inmates, he added.

"HMP Norwich has a dedicated unit for those prisoners, mainly elderly, who require a higher degree of care than other prisoners. HMP Stafford is working with the charity Help the Aged to provide a day centre for the older prisoners who are no longer required to work and do not wish to do so.

"Whenever possible, prisoners with mobility problems are located in more accessible accommodation. Some prisons also set aside certain wings for older prisoners. HMP Leyhill has a designated landing for this purpose."

The Ministry of Justice, working with the Prisons Inspectorate, will publish a review on older prisoners later this month.


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