Care for elderly prisoners ‘inconsistent and only set to get worse’, finds report

This article was taken from:

By May Bulman Social Affairs Correspondent at the Independent Newspaper

Government and councils failing to plan for the future needs of growing population of elderly, ill and frail inmates, warns watchdog

Elderly prisoners are not always receiving the care they need, with some struggling to wash themselves and others not getting help when they fall during the night, a report has found.

The prisons watchdog and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) warned that the government and local authorities were failing to plan for the future needs of a growing population of elderly, ill and frail inmates.

There were 13,522 prisoners aged over 50 in December 2017 – 16 per cent of the total adult prison population aged over 18, and projections show that this number is likely to increase.

The Prison Inspectorate and the CQC said they were not convinced that there was adequate consideration of what would be required in the very near future, representing a “serious and obvious defect in strategic planning”.

The report found that prison cells were often small, limiting accessibility for prisoners who require wheelchairs, with some unable to provide accessible cells on their standard accommodation, meaning inmates had to be transferred to the social care unit to access washing facilities.

It comes amid mounting concern over the crisis gripping prisons in England and Wales, as self-harm and violent attacks hit record levels for the second time in a year.

The report states that the ageing population within prisons, coupled with increasing frailty and incidence of dementia, has accelerated the need for prisons to address social care needs.

It also highlights that a significant proportion of prisoners have learning disabilities, autism, mental health disorders or difficulties which may also inhibit their ability to cope with life in prison.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Steve Field, CQC chief inspector of general practice, said they were also concerned that developments in social care in prisons were only related to current need.

“There continue to be wide variations between social care services in prisons, so that as yet they are neither equitable nor consistent,” they said.

“Gaps remain in provision of services in English prisons. Gaps also remain in the provision of support for those prisoners requiring assistance with personal care who do not meet the eligibility threshold for social care.

“There are clear signs that the disparity in services between prisons is disadvantaging prisoners in their ability to be rehabilitated, because transfers to suitable establishments cannot be effected when receiving prisons are unable to offer services that can adequately respond to the individual’s social care needs.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that while a recent change in the law requiring local authorities to provide social care for people in prison was an “important and sensible” reform, it was “not delivering what Parliament intended”.

“Our prisons are increasingly filled with old people serving very long sentences. An overcrowded, under-resourced system is failing in many cases to provide humane care within prison, still less to prepare these people for what remains of their life when they are eventually released,” he added.

“The prisons minister has said that he wants to get the basics right. Ensuring that old, sick people are treated with dignity is about as basic as it gets.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We recognise the challenges posed by an ageing prison population and will continue working closely with partners in local and central government to make sure services are delivered more consistently across the country now and in the future.

“Inspectors noted that there is already good work going on to adapt prisons for an older population and, since this inspection, we have updated guidance for governors on how to deal with prisoners who have social care needs.”

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