Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Prisons accused of ignoring age trend

UK: A 70-year-old prisoner who uses a wheelchair has to pay "unofficial helpers" six chocolate bars a week to help him get around and to collect his meals, according to an investigation by the chief inspector of prisons into the growing number of elderly inmates.

The inquiry by Anne Owers also found that one of the most common complaints from older prisoners was that they ended up in the top bunk in a shared cell. Not only is climbing in and out difficult, but also the more arthritic tend to fall out.

The chief inspector said such problems needed to be taken much more seriously as the number of prisoners in England and Wales over the age of 60 had risen threefold to more than 1,500 in the last 10 years. Far from being "old lags" with a lifetime of prison behind them, 75% have not been behind bars before.

Ms Owers said prisons were mainly built for and inhabited by young men, and were not geared up to deal with an ageing population, some of whom are likely to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

But interviews with 442 older and infirm prisoners showed no national strategy for their treatment and care. Among examples the inquiry team came across were:

* a prisoner in a wheelchair who was unable to use the shower and was taken to have a bath only once a month;

* prisoners with mobility problems who were allocated to upper bunk beds in cramped cells;

* the 70-year-old whose wheelchair was deemed to be for "general use" and so was not always available;

* prison staff who refused to push inmates in wheelchairs "because they had not been properly trained";

* the group of older prisoners who when asked their first choice of an outside speaker opted for an undertaker.

Her conclusions were disputed last night by Martin Narey, chief executive of the national offender management service, who said very few prisoners required special facilities as a result of age, and implementing the chief inspector's report would require considerable investment and would be unrealistic.

By Alan Travis posted 15 December 04


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