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Older people on probation
The number of older people on probation keeps rising, how should we respond?

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Ageing and ageism

The latest (16 December 2022) Academic Insight published by HMI Probation examines the issue of older people on probation. Written by Nichola Cadet, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, the paper highlights the importance of understanding the needs of older people on probation.

The health and wellbeing of older people can be impacted by histories of poor mental and physical health, alcohol/drug use, precarious financial situations and unstable accommodation, while connectedness, participation and independence have been found to be key social needs.

There are clear links to desistance theory and the wider evidence base underpinning high-quality probation services, and a number of practical suggestions and recommendations are set out in the report to help ensure that the services provided are sufficiently age-inclusive and holistic (acknowledging that age intersects with other factors such as gender and ethnicity).

The report

The paper provides a great overview of the issue. Starting with an overview of what the research literature tells us about the needs and experiences of older people in the criminal justice system, it then provides statistics around age/ageing and the numbers of older people on probation. The report highlights links with reducing reoffending pathways and how they may be experienced differently by older people.

It concludes by making practical suggestions to support practitioners, policymakers and commissioners to develop services to ensure that they are age-inclusive against a backdrop of an ageing workforce and an ageist society.


The focus to date in the criminal justice system has been on older prisoners – they are the fastest increasing cohort in the prison system. However, age is not routinely collected at an aggregate level from probation caseloads. Ms Cadet made a Freedom of Information reques and found that during 2018/19, 26,065 people on probation caseloads were aged over 50. This represented almost 17 per cent of the caseload, with similar proportions for men and women.

The chart below, reproduced from the report, shows recent changes in the numbers of those aged over 50, broken down by type of order. The largest increase was in the proportion of over 50’s being supervised post-release or on licence. Twenty two per cent of all people on licence in 2018/19 were over 50 (13,281), compared with 17 per cent in 2015/16.

Interestingly, 18 per cent of those aged over 50 on licence were over retirement age (including 25 people aged over 90). This is important, as the traditional notions of defining and meeting criminogenic need will differ for this cohort, e.g. expectations around employment, particularly for those in approved premises.


Although older people on probation can obviously have committed any sort of offence, Ms Cadet provides a helpful typology as a way of identifying potential commonalities of experience. There are four different groupings.

Best practice

After highlighting some of the key areas of need (obviously involving health to a large extent), Ms Cadet provides helpful advice, saying that a systematic review of the social needs of older people found that interventions should focus on three key notions which have resonance to probation practice around recovery and desistance:

  1. connectedness
  2. participation
  3. independence.

The diagram reproduced below highlights a number of approaches which have potential for more systematic approaches to working with older people on probation, and their links with existing probation practices.


Ms Cadet concludes by making of number of helpful recommendations for best practice which are set out below. They do of course require probation officers to have sufficient time and professional curiosity to ask the right questions and to make connections with a new set of community resources. Best practice includes:

  • Exploring creative opportunities for social interaction
  • Developing positive relationships through “thick” supervision
  • Making use of lived experience and service user involvement to develop a probation response which meets the needs of older men and women on probation.


Thanks to Mari Lezhava for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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