Urgent action and greater understanding is needed to cope with the fast-growing elderly prison population, says a leading support organisation.
Pioneering charity RECOOP (Resettlement and Care of Older ex-Offenders and Prisoners) is campaigning for changes in national policy.
Older prisoners make up 17 per cent of the prison population – this is projected to grow by 10.6 per cent by the end of June 2021, including a projected increase in the over-70s of 31.3 per cent.
Problems are exacerbated by health and mobility issues, dementia, and depression with 90 per cent of them having a moderate or serious health condition
Sympathy is often also in short supply for older prisoners, many of whom have been incarcerated because of historic sex offences.
RECOOP Chief Officer Paul Grainge said: “A new national strategy is needed for dealing with older offenders. The problem is getting bigger all the time and we are underprepared as a nation.”
“Older prisoners have complex needs including sensory impairments, multiple healthcare needs, disabilities and poor mobility. They are more likely to be retired and need meaningful activity and social connections.
“In many cases, older prisoners, who may be serving life sentences, or those who are brought to justice later in life, face the stark reality of the probability of dying in prison.
“A prison is a particularly difficult place in which to be old. The needs of older prisoners are often overlooked, as many pose no obvious behavioural problems for the prison authorities.
“Their physical frailty is a disadvantage when they are incarcerated alongside younger prisoners and bullying and victimisation can be a problem.”
Mr Grainge added: “We’ve seen little development or implementation of the good practices included within the recent Model Operational Delivery for Older Prisoners guidance. As this population continues to grow, the management time, resources and cost needed to meet their specific needs will also increase.
“Without a National Strategy it’s difficult to see a future joined up consistent approach to meet the growing need.”
Mr Grainge, who recently addressed the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Justice Strategy Team, said some progress was being made but sustained pressure was needed to deliver change.
The RECOOP publication A Different Sense Of Time highlights the unique needs of older prisoners and presents a cost-effective portfolio of initiatives.
RECOOP’s services have been recognised as good practice by HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP), Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
These include prison staff training, the in-prison buddy support worker training programme, healthy eating and living, activities, day centres and transition resettlement course.
RECOOP, which has worked in more than 60 prisons, operates under the auspices of Dorset-based charitable housing association BCHA.
Mr Grainge added: “We are gaining increasing national recognition for our work and have contributed to seminal policy documents.
“We are a registered charity working to empower older prisoners to take control of their lives, to optimise their physical and mental health and to remain free from re-offending.
“We are one of the very few organisations working with specifically with this group and aspire to be the leader in the delivery of knowledge and expertise to older people who come into contact with the criminal justice system and offer support to the staff who work with them.
“The development of our activities is influenced by our service-users and key stakeholders within the prison service.
“The over-arching aim of RECOOP is to reduce re-offending through the provision of meaningful activity, resettlement services and by addressing the health and social care inequalities faced by this marginalised under-served group.”