Prisoners' Fears For The Future
Throughout the course of this piece of work a common theme which emerged was the prisoner perception that no-one cared about what was going to happen to them either in prison or when they were released. A number of prisoners clearly felt as if no-one was really bothered about them regardless of their age or what they were physically capable of doing. It wasn't just that staff within the prison setting did not care, but rather prisoners felt that society as a whole - including, in a number of cases, family members - didn't care about them.
"I'm here doing a long sentence, and to be honest I think what's the point? Nobody is bothered about me. There is nothing for me to go out to and what's left of my family have disowned me. I don't even have anywhere to live if I was to be released and I'm too old to be living rough at my age."
The participants were asked in the questionnaire to identify their biggest fear associated with being in prison. The three most common responses were "dying in prison", "worsening health" and "loss of family contact".
Table 6: What is your biggest fear?
Table 7: Has your health deteriorated since being in custody?
The prisoner cohort involved in this study did not seem to understand how their housing needs would be met when they were released from prison. This was a further cause of anxiety for them.
Two of the individuals interviewed had been brought back from another country because of crimes they had committed decades ago. One of these prisoners was very emotional when explaining his story:
"Since I have been arrested and brought back to Scotland I have had some serious health issues. I have been in hospital for major surgery and haven't seen my family now for quite some time. The worst thing though is that my wife has died and I will never get the chance to see her again. I don't even know if I get released if I will be able to go back to my family [overseas]."
This quote illustrates the sense of helplessness felt by some of the elderly prisoner population.
Many of the older prisoners involved in the review were not receiving regular visits, and expressed the way that this reinforced the sense that no one cared about them. As a research team we had to modify our initial questionnaire after the test phase to take into account this common experience of receiving few visits. Elderly prisoners receive visits from elderly people who may also have special needs in respect of their own mobility and the processes they have to endure when they arrive at the prison:
"My wife has visited me but it has been only on a few occasions. She has to travel quite a long distance and she is also incontinent. When she arrives she requires somewhere to wash and change and to be honest it's proving quite difficult."
Another prisoner wanted to discuss a visit he had expected but hadn't received and the impact this had on him:
"I am probably going to die in prison given both my age and sentence. My brother who is elderly and lives in another country came to the prison to visit me. It was to be the last time we would see each other. On the day of the visit there was a mix up and although there was space in the visit room he wasn't allowed in. I was devastated that he had come all that way so we could see each other one final time, only for him to be refused entry to the prison."
Examples such as these increase the feelings amongst the prisoner group of being isolated, marginalised and ultimately left with a sense that no one cares.
Discussion and Recommendations
This study has demonstrated multiple factors affecting older prisoners that are likely to reinforce a sense of being forgotten and uncared for. This in turn may well undermine their health. Their fears of loneliness, isolation and dying alone suggest that the SPS ought to put in place appropriate arrangements to ensure that prisoners have support and companionship in their final years.
Prisoners who are due for release should be prepared to face life outside the prison and in particular informed that housing will form part of their release plan.
It is clear that visits are of particular significance when either the prisoner, or their visitor, or both, are coming towards the end of their lives. When a prisoner misses a visit at any time it is a difficult situation to accept, but when the prisoner feels that he or his relatives may not have long to go and he may not see them again this must increase the impact of the event considerably. Prison staff have a duty of care to ensure that visits are facilitated effectively.