Serious practical and ethical challenges surround the detention of older people in prison, and there is an urgent need for a wider debate about the appropriateness of detaining old and seriously ill people in a prison environment, particularly those living with dementia or other terminal illnesses. This is among a number of key recommendations contained in a new research report from the Irish Penal Reform Trust, "In here, time stands still": The Rights, Needs and Experience of Older People in Prison, which was formally launched today (Friday 30th Sept 2016).
Although the research found some aspects of prison life were reported to be positive, including relationships with staff and younger prisoners, and access to education and training, a number of issues arose which are a cause of serious concern. These include:
- the detention of older people living with dementia and other serious conditions, which may in certain circumstances amount to inhumane treatment;
- some older people are confined to their cell or are bed-bound, due to the unsuitability of the prison environment for people with mobility issues;
- in some instances personal care, including intimate care such as the changing of incontinence pads, is being provided by other prisoners.
On the formal launch of the report, Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:
“Whether it is the difficulty in getting around, fear of elder abuse or simply the loneliness of a long day spent in solitude with little to do and no one to talk to, the needs of older people are remarkably similar either side of the prison wall.
On the eve of International Day of the Older Person it is particularly timely to examine how we can better protect the dignity and the humanity of our older prisoners.
At the end of life and in cases of severe illness, maintaining the dignity and quality of life of older people in prison requires us all to reflect on the appropriateness of detaining very elderly and seriously ill people in a prison environment, particularly those living with dementia or other terminal illnesses, where the risk of harm to others is minimal. Our prisons are neither hospitals nor hospices and cannot be expected to fulfil the role of either.”
On the eve of the UN National Day of Older Persons, IPRT is calling for:
- A wider national debate about the appropriateness of detaining old and seriously ill people in a prison environment, particularly those living with dementia or other terminal illnesses. This debate should consider the significant practical and ethical challenges the continued detention of these people presents for prison staff and for other prisoners.
- The release of older people with significant medical problems whose care cannot be adequately catered for in prison to more appropriate facilities.
- Any decision to grant Temporary Release on health grounds should be based on the particular circumstances of each case and should not be influenced by policies regarding the nature of the offence committed.
- All prison staff should receive dementia awareness training, allowing them to identify symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and providing them with the skills necessary to support people living with dementia.
- All prison staff should receive training on how to recognise and manage bullying, and all allegations of bullying of older people should be responded to quickly and effectively.
The report, "In here, time stands still": The Rights, Needs and Experience of Older People in Prison, examines the Irish prison system across: physical and mental health needs; mobility and the physical environment; social care needs; bullying and victimisation; participation in prison programmes; and release planning and resettlement, and makes a number of detailed recommendations under each heading.
IPRT welcomes the commitment by the Irish Prison Service to the development of an Older Prisoners Strategy, and believes that action on IPRT’s findings and recommendations will enable the Irish Prison Service meet its obligations regarding the rights of older people in prison.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. REPORT LAUNCH:
On Friday 30th Sept 2016, the eve of the UN International Day of Older Persons, IPRT launched a new research report "In here, time stands still": The Rights, Needs and Experience of Older People in Prison. The launch took place in the Ashling Hotel, Parkgate Street, Dublin 8.
Speakers at the launch were: Senator David Norris, who launched the report; Joanna Joyce, co-author of the report; Justin Moran, Head of Advocacy and Communications, Age Action Ireland; and Patrick Gageby, SC, who examined the issues from a legal perspective.
2. REPORT DETAILS:
The 46-page report is based on research commissioned by IPRT and conducted by Joanna Joyce and Dr Tina Maschi. The research comprised a desk-based literature review, and qualitative interviews with prisoners and professional stakeholders. The report offers clear recommendations based on best-practice examples and the recommendations of the research participants and professional stakeholders. The research was supported by the St Stephen’s Green Trust. The report is available online at: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2968
- Almost 10% of people in prison custody today are over the age of 50 (Irish Prison Service, 2015).
- The numbers of people aged over 50 committed to prison tripled between 2005 (429) and 2015 (1,306).
- There was an 80% increase in the number of people aged over 50 in custody under sentence between 2007 (199) and 2015 (359).
4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)
IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort: www.iprt.ie