Doing Time - good practice guide

prison cell with bed and a walking stick leaning against a bedside cabinet with a pile of books on it

People aged 60 and over are now the fastest growing age group in the prison estate. Good practice exists and can be spread but work with older people in prison is not being properly supported by government and too often depends on the goodwill and enthusiasm of individual staff, according to the report we will publish this week.  At the moment there is no proper policy input or Ministry of Justice mandatory requirements for prisons staff to respond to needs of older people in custody. We are concerned that increased budgetary restraints could mean that this work is sidelined leaving older people without the support they need and prisons open to challenge under equalities legislation.  

Doing Time: Good practice with older people in prison - the views of prison staff is based on a survey of staff sent to all adult prison establishments throughout England and Wales. Staff were asked to outline their work with older people in prison and what would help them to improve the work they did. The high response rate, with 92 prisons returning completed surveys representing three-quarters of all prisons holding older people, demonstrated a willingness to share information and improve practice in work with older people in prison. However, the report revealed patchy provision with prison staff needing further encouragement and resources properly to meet the needs of the older prisoners. 

Particular concerns were raised over the capacity of the Prison Service to meet its obligations to older people in prison under the Disability Discrimination Act and forthcoming Equality Act. Prison staff's own estimates of DDA compliance showed that six of the 92 respondents felt they were fully compliant, 30 almost, and 54 prisons recognised that they were less than half way to compliance. The lack of input from other statutory services in providing for older people in prison was also a cause for concern, with 93% of prison staff making no mention of any social service involvement in their prisons. 

Sentence planning and offending behaviour work rarely took account of age, and resettlement departments needed to build better links with outside agencies and develop age-specific resettlement work to meet the needs of older prisoners.

However, the survey revealed much good practice with older people in prison was taking place. Thirty two prison staff (over a third of the survey respondents) explained that a forum, focus group or committee for older prisoners was running in their establishment. Nearly two thirds of the 92 prisons in the survey (60%) reported that some specific age related assessments or arrangements were in place. Respondents from thirty prisons (almost a third of the survey) noted that there was some form of prisoner to prisoner support in the prison for older people. Over a third of prisons (38%) have some outside organisations providing some services to older prisoners.