An older prisoner walks along the corridor of the Vulnerable Prisoners Unit. HMP Wandsworth, London, United Kingdom
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Working with older offenders

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Clinks report says flexibility is vital in supporting older people in the criminal justice system.

A new (29 March 2019) report from Clinks examines the role and value of the voluntary sector in supporting
older people in the criminal justice system. Entitled Flexibility is vital, the report says that the voluntary sector’s ability to be flexible is key in meeting the needs of older people in the justice system which have two distinct characteristics, being:

  1. Multi-faceted – crossing the boundaries of health, social care and criminal justice.
  2. Always changing – through the continuous process of ageing, and in moving through the stages of sentence and resettlement.

The report says that public and private sector organisations tend to assess needs and organise services from specified statutory, contractual and professional perspectives. Voluntary organisations are usually less constricted, more often user-led, and more able to respond to whatever needs they come across.

This flexibility of response gives the voluntary sector a clear and distinct advantage when meeting needs that are multi-faceted and always changing. However, flexibility also brings significant organisational challenges – in specifying services, evidencing outcomes and securing longer term funding, for example through commissioned contracts and philanthropic support. As a result, the exceptional services being delivered by many voluntary organisations have uncertain futures, whilst many prisons and communities have little or no such provision at all.

The report argues that for the voluntary sector’s impact to be maximised and made consistent across the country, a strategic approach is needed, including:

  • A framework of values and principles shared across sectors, acknowledging the distinctive, flexible role of voluntary organisations.
  • New, more flexible models of commissioning and a joint commitment to attract long-term philanthropic funding.
  • Innovative, multi-faceted models of evaluation. 

Facts and figures

  • People aged 60 and over are the fastest growing age group in the prison estate. There are now more than triple the number there were 15 years ago.
  • One in six people in prison (16%) is aged 50 or over – 13,616 out of 82,773. The number of over 50s in prison is projected to increase by 11% by 2022, while the number of over 70s is projected to increase by 31%.
  • 45% of men in prison aged over 50 have been convicted of sex offences. The next highest offence category is violence against the person (23%) followed by drug offences (9%).”

Official reports also draw attention to the difficulties caused by our ageing prison estate and several of our approved premises.

© Andy Aitchison

Best practice

The report acknowledges that many prisons and localities lack any expert provision working with older people in the justice system before giving examples of some specialist schemes including:

  • Recoop, a national charity that specialises in working with older people who have offended. Its governance and management structure supports projects funded by contract and adapted to the needs of specific prison and community settings.
  • Restore Support Network,  a small user-led national charity specialising in support for people aged over 50 who have offended.
  • Age UK which is contracted to provide services for older prisoners in several prisons in the North East.
  • The Safer Living Foundation is a small charity working in the Midlands with people convicted of sexual offences. Projects include a Circles of Support and Accountability programme for prisoners aged 55+ who are being released from HMP Whatton, a Category C treatment prison in Nottinghamshire and who are at high or very high risk of sexually reoffending.

Recommendations

The report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at different stakeholder groups including government, HMPPS, commissioners, funders and providers. Perhaps one of the most important is this one, aimed at commissioners across the health and justice systems:

Commissioners should be aware that good outcomes for this group are wider than reducing reoffending and should also focus upon health and wellbeing, dignity and end of life care.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. The header image is of the anti-suicide netting at HMP Wandsworth designed to prevent prisoners jumping to their death from the upper landing. You can see Andy’s work here.

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