Prison is not the preserve of the young

Amid all the discussion following the recent riots in England about how to punish those responsible, there appeared a footnote from government about the need to ensure prisoners released from jail without a job are fast-tracked on to the government’s work programme.

This would seem sensible, certainly in comparison with calls to evict families of convicted rioters from social housing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke also weighed in by suggesting that locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing.

The backdrop of recent disorder and the relatively young age of many involved, means that once again, a national debate about penal reform has failed to acknowledge what many in the prison estate know only too well; that the older prison population is growing.

It is also clear that the increases in numbers are not a one off, but part of a trend as a result of changes in attitudes within society and the criminal justice system, coupled with an ageing population.

However, to date no additional resources have been made available to meet the needs of this particular group of offenders, either within or outside prison. And according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons in a report from 2008, apart from short sections in the Prison Service Orders on disability and women, there remains no national strategy for older prisoners as such, supported by mandatory national and local standards.

While Age UK knows that many of these prisoners have been found guilty of serious crimes, it is important that this is not used as a reason for them to receive sub-standard support. In order to reduce the likelihood of these prisoners reoffending, it is imperative that those services which best aid rehabilitation – health and social care support, housing and pensions advice, education and training – be made available to them, both in prison and following release.

Read about how Age UK is advising commissioners on services that we make available for older prisoners and older ex-offenders.

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