‘Serious concerns’ raised over detention of older prisoners

Irish Penal Reform Trust calls for comprehensive strategy for the elderly

Close up photo of a handcuffed elderly woman. Photograph: iStock

Close up photo of a handcuffed elderly woman. Photograph: iStock


Some older prisoners are receiving personal care, including intimate care such as changing incontinence pads, from other prisoners, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has said.

The trust has also raised “serious concerns” over the detention of older prisoners with dementia and the fact that some older prisoners are confined to their cell or are bedbound.

In a report, “In here, time stands still”: Rights, Needs and Experiences of Older People in Prison, the trust said elderly prisoners face a wide range of issues different from those faced by the general prison population.

The trust said these fall under six different themes: physical and mental health needs, mobility and the physical environment, social care needs, bullying and victimisation, participation in prison programmes, release planning and resettlement.

The number of older people in prison has increased considerably in recent years. Figures from the Irish Prison Service in 2015 indicate that nearly 10 per cent of prisoners are over the age of 50.

In its recommendations, the trust said prison staff should receive special training to help them identify and deal with issues that affect older people.

The trust said the prison service should build on the existing Strategy for the Management of Older Persons to create a comprehensive strategy that considers the rights and needs of older people in prison.

It said this should involve a wider debate about the appropriateness of detaining old and seriously-ill people in a prison environment, particularly those living with dementia or other terminal illnesses.

The trust said prisons housing women should address their gender-related health issues ensuring that they continue to receive mammograms, cervical cytology trainings and support for age-related issues including the menopause.

Any older person’s unit or wing should incorporate age-friendly design, and all prisons should provide mobility aids to allow older people to remain active, the report said.

It added that consideration should be given to an optional and strictly monitored scheme whereby prisoners are trained to provide some limited social care to older prisoners and may gain privileges for doing so.

“However,” it went on, “any care provided through this scheme should not extend to personal care such as washing and dressing.”

The trust said a resettlement strategy should take into account the health and welfare needs of older prisoners nearing release and appropriate accomodation should be in place before their release.