Older people in prisons face many challenges. We urgently need to resource research and change practice in line with the evidence, writes Dr Bruce Stevens.
Older people are the fastest growing segment of the prison population.
There are many reasons for this including our ageing population and contributing factors such as mandatory minimum sentences (note the incarcerate rate in Northern Territory), longer sentences for serious crimes and the reluctance to release some offenders.
But how do we define being old? Generally this is defined 50 years or older (with 45 years for indigenous). This is not surprising since most in prison abuse alcohol and/or drugs, smoke, have poor diet and do not seek medical treatment. The result is bodies older than their years and an early onset of frailty, dementia and chronic conditions.
Older people in prison face many challenges. This includes the unsuitability of facilities for aged prisoners. Many prisons were built in the 19th century to ‘house’ younger offenders.
How does a person in a wheelchair get down stairs to enter the courtyard? How can he or she use a walking stick or frame when such objects might be considered potential weapons?
There is an urgent need to resource research, initiate pilot programs and evaluate and change practice in line with evidence-based research.
However, the real barrier is: who cares?
Dr Bruce Stevens is a clinical psychologist and Wicking Chair of Ageing and Practical Theology at Charles Sturt University.
Old and behind bars: do we care? (Australian Ageing Agenda)