Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Call for detail on older prisoners strategy and screening for dementia
The House of Commons Justice Committee has welcomed the Government’s acceptance that there should be a new strategy for dealing with the increasing number of older prisoners, but has called for more detail on that strategy and a timeframe for it. The Committee meanwhile regretted that the government had rejected its recommendation that older prisoners be systematically screened for dementia.
- Read the report: Ageing prison population: Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report
- Inquiry: Ageing prison population
- Justice Committee
The Committee’s comments came as it published the Government’s response to its in-depth report, Ageing Prison Population, which was itself published in July of this year.
The number of prisoners in England and Wales aged over 60 has increased by over 240% since 2002, primarily because of an increase in the number of older men being sentenced for sexual offences. Between 2002 and 2020 the number of prisoners over 60 has grown from around 1500 to over 5000.
This increased population of older people has profound implications for the prison service. Older prisoners are more likely to have chronic diseases, disability and decreased mobility. Moreover, many of our prisons, especially those built in the Victorian era, were not designed to accommodate people with serious illnesses or mobility issues.
With these realities in mind, the Committee recommended that long-term prison estate strategy should reflect the needs of older prisoners, especially as the government is planning to build new prisons to accommodate a projected 10,000 more prisoners in the years to come. The Minister responsible for prisons, Lucy Frazer QC MP, acknowleged these findings and told the Justice Committee she had commissioned an older offenders strategy.
The Committee expressed disappointment that the government had rejected its recommendation that older prisoners be systematically screened for dementia, and that prison officers who work with older prisoners receive related training.
The Justice Committee report published in July had noted that 85% of prisoners over the age of 60 have some form of major illness and that prisoners tend to “age” more prematurely than people in the general population because of a variety of social and physical disadvantages.
In its response, the government said only that healthcare providers would be asked to look out for symptoms and ensure they knew what to do if these arise.
The Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill, said:
“When many of our jails were built, in Victorian times, it couldn’t have been imagined that so many people, including prisoners, would live much longer lives. Because of this, some of these buildings are no longer fit for purpose. So while we welcome the Government’s commitment to commissioning an older offenders strategy, we need more detail. We would ask the Ministry to set out the parameters. Who will it consult, for example, and how will we measure success? We would also ask the Minister for a clear timeline on this strategy.
“On the issue of dementia I am very disappointed that the Ministry of Justice did not agree that every older prisoner should have systematic access to screening and be treated accordingly. Left untreated, dementia can rob a person of their dignity and we should not go down that road. I would urge the Government to reconsider our proposal and to set out, on the record, what precise tools are currently in place to identify prisoners with dementia.”
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