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Ageing prison population inquiry relaunched

17 April 2020

The Justice Committee relaunches an inquiry into the ageing prison population to establish any special needs of older prisoners and to make recommendations on how they might be cared for.

Given the greater risk older people face from Covid-19, the inquiry will also look at how older prisoners can be protected from the virus.

There are currently around 13,700 prisoners over the age of 50 in England and Wales. In 2002 there were some 4800. This is an increase of approximately 180%.

The reasons for the rise include an increase in convictions for sexual offences – an area where convictions are more likely to include older people. Longer sentences for a number of crimes have also meant that more prisoners reach old age in prison.

Over 5000 prisoners are currently over 60 years old – an age category that has also increased in recent years.

The inquiry is likely to include: an investigation of the adequacy of prison accommodation for older people; the extent of purposeful activity available to them; and how the provision of health and social care measures up to their needs. The inquiry will also ask whether a national strategy for the treatment of older prisoners is needed.

This inquiry was first launched in 2019 but was closed on the dissolution of the last Parliament for the General Election in December. The Committee received almost 40 pieces of written evidence from organisations working in the justice sector, health professionals and former and serving prisoners. The Committee thanks all those who contributed and will include this evidence in the revived inquiry.

Terms of reference

The Committee will focus the inquiry around its original terms of reference:

  • What are the characteristics of older prisoners, what types of offences are they in prison for and how is this demographic likely to change in the future?
  • What challenges do older prisoners face, what services do they need and are there barriers to accessing these?
  • Is the design of accommodation for older prisoners appropriate and what could be done to improve this?
  • How do older prisoners interact with the prison regime and what purposeful activity is available to them?
  • Does the provision of both health and social care, including mental health care, meet the needs of older prisoners and how can services be made more effective?
  • Do prisons, healthcare providers, local authorities and other organisations involved in the care of older prisoners collaborate effectively?
  • Are the arrangements for the resettlement of older prisoners effective?
  • Does the treatment of older prisoners comply with equality legislation and human rights standards?
  • Should a national strategy for the treatment of older prisoners should be established; and if so, what it should contain? 

Oral evidence

The first of two planned oral evidence sessions will take place on Tuesday 21 April, with evidence from:

Panel 1 (at 2.30pm)

  • Professor Jennifer Shaw, Academic Lead, Offender Health Research Network, University of Manchester
  • Paul Grainge, Chief Officer, RECOOP
  • Emily McCarron, Equality and Human Rights Policy Manager, Age UK

Panel 2 (at 3.30pm)

  • Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Dr Rosie Benneyworth, Chief Inspector of Primary Medical Services and Integrated Care and Jan Fooks-Bale, Inspection Manager (Health & Justice), Care Quality Commission
  • Dame Anne Owers, National Chair, Independent Monitoring Boards

Further information

Image: Ministry of Justice