Who Cares ? The Lived Experience Of Older Prisoners In Scotland's Prisons


The faces in Scotland's prisons are changing. Whilst recent years have seen a reduction in the number of young people in custody, the number of older prisoners has increased significantly. Within the last year alone, the number of prisoners over the age of 60 has increased by a fifth (SPS statistics).

As HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, I regularly inspect the conditions in Scotland's prisons and the treatment of prisoners. It is striking to see the increase in the number of older people in prison and to observe the additional challenges which age and infirmity bring to prison life. This thematic study of the experience of older prisoners was designed to identify these additional challenges both for the prisoners and for those with the responsibility of looking after them. A study of this nature raises profound issues not just for the prison service but for wider society too. How do we want people in prison to be cared for? How do we balance the needs of justice and the need for care? How should the needs for end of life care of older people in prison be met?

What is beyond dispute is that there is a growing number of older prisoners in Scotland and that they are living longer. Much has been written on the subject of older prisoners in Australia, North America and England and Wales[1]. There has not been a study of this nature in Scotland. For this study, we invited all prisoners over the age of 60 to complete a questionnaire to tell us of their experience in prison. We conducted a number of interviews with individuals who volunteered and we listened to the views of staff working in prisons expressed in two focus groups.

This has allowed us to draw some conclusions for what is needed to address the complexities of caring for older prisoners. There is a pressing need for a clear strategic approach to a subject which has grown incrementally in importance, but without any specific strategy. Such a strategy must clarify where responsibility and ownership lie between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service, NHS Boards and Local Authorities.

Many prisoners told us of the sense of loneliness they felt and their desire for companionship, with boredom and limited out of cell activity adding to their sense of isolation. They also told us many stories of how well they felt they were cared for by individual members of staff who had gone the extra mile to provide support and care. The study raises important questions about the delivery of complex health and social care, the provision of suitable accommodation for less mobile prisoners, the range of activities available for older prisoners and the importance of positive relationships with family, staff and fellow prisoners.

The Scottish Prison Service is charged with managing prisons in Scotland, but responding to the increase in the elderly prisoner population and the ensuing issues which follow cannot be addressed by the SPS alone. Tackling the increased demands of treating poor health and associated costs, problems around suitability of prisons and overall governance structures around risk and rights arguments require a broader response. My hope is that this report will contribute to Scotland's response to these pressing issues. The question for all of us with an interest in the criminal justice system and wider social justice in Scotland is "Who cares for our elderly prisoners?"

An Overview Of The Cohort

<Info Graphic: An Overview Of The Cohort>