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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

The needs of older prisoners

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There were 11,000 prisoners of this age incarcerated in June 2014, representing about 13% of the prison population. Indeed, over the last 10 years (2004 - 2014) prisoners aged 60 or over were the fastest-growing age group (125% increase) followed by those aged 50–59 (104% increase).

Old lags

The Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction  (SPCR) survey has produced some useful and interesting findings. Last month (29th Octoer 2014), the MoJ published a special report from the survey focusing on the characteristics and needs of older prisoners.

SPCR is a longitudinal cohort study of 2,171 adult prisoners sentenced to between 18 months and four years in 2006 and 2007. This report has a small sample of just 115 older prisoners (defined as aged 50 and over on reception).

However, the findings are still of interest, especially since there were 11,000 prisoners of this age incarcerated in June 2014, representing about 13% of the prison population. Indeed, over the last 10 years (2004 – 2014) prisoners aged 60 or over were the fastest-growing age group (125% increase) followed by those aged 50–59 (104% increase).

This trend is highlighted in the latest Bromley Briefing from the Prison Reform Trust, an invaluable compendium of criminal justice facts and figures.

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Findings

The main findings were not particularly surprising. However, it is good to have them confirmed by research and they give both prison and probation managers key information about planning services for older prisoners:

  • Older prisoners may have greater health needs than younger prisoners. They were more likely to report needing help with a medical problem and be considered to have a disability. Older prisoners were also more likely to report long-term sickness/disability as a reason for having been unable to work in the four weeks before custody and were more likely to have been claiming sickness/incapacity benefit in the year before custody.
  • A higher proportion of older prisoners reported completing a degree/diploma or equivalent or trade apprenticeship, whilst younger prisoners were more likely to report that they had been looking for work or training before coming to custody.
  • Older prisoners reported lower levels of drug use compared to younger prisoners, with fewer than three in ten older prisoners reporting using any drug before custody compared to the majority of younger prisoners.
  • Older prisoners were less likely than younger prisoners to reoffend in the year following release from custody. They reported that the most important factors in reducing their reoffending were suitable accommodation, fear of returning to prison, family contact and support and employment.

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Conclusion

So, what are the consequences of these findings? The most obvious is that all prisoners need to receive an individually tailored resettlement plan and that the contents of these plans are likely to be different for older prisoners.

However, there will be a new opportunity for providers to try to meet the health needs of older prisoners when Part 1 of the Care Act (2014) is implemented in April 2015. The Act acknowledges current problems about access to social care for prisoners . Section 76 of the Act sets out to clarify local responsibilities, and to describe how the partners involved should work together to ensure that prisoners have the same access to care and support as anyone else.

Local authorities will be responsible for assessing the health of all adults who are in custody in their area (this is a key point: it is the host local authority not the local authority of normal residence who is responsible for assessment). There are concerns that the new Act will not be able to live up to its aspirations (given the huge cuts in social care over the last four years).

Nevertheless, it represents an opportunity to try to meet the health needs of an increasingly ageing prison population.

 

Readers wanting to know more about this issue might be interested in a recent Prison Reform Trust report by Francesca Cooney and Julia Braggins: Doing Time: Good practice with older people in prison

 

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