A sharp increase in numbers of men convicted for decades-old sexual offences has left jails struggling to cope with a soaring population of older prisoners, ministers are warned today.
MPs said many jails were built to house fit young offenders and are unsuitable for middle-aged and elderly inmates. The Commons Justice Select Committee pointed to the cramped conditions and poor accessibility in many of the country’s jails and condemned the lack of mental health provision and help with social care across the prison estate.
It called for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to develop a strategy to provide suitable accommodation for older inmates.
Offenders aged over 60 represent the fastest growing group behind bars, with the number jailed increasing by almost half in just four years. Older prisoners are most likely to be imprisoned for sexual offences, including those committed up to 30 years ago, which usually attract long sentences. The numbers are likely to continue as further investigations into historic sex abuse leads to convictions.
Sir Alan Beith, the committee’s chairman, said: “Older and disabled prisoners should no longer be held in institutions which cannot meet their basic needs. Nor should they be released back into the community without adequate support. In one case we heard of a prisoner who was a wheelchair user being released from prison without a wheelchair.”
He added: “The lack of provision for essential social care for older prisoners, the confusion about who should be providing it, and the failure of so many authorities to accept responsibility for it, have been disgraceful.”
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Caring for wheelchair-bound, doubly incontinent, often demented people is beyond what we can reasonably expect of prison staff.”
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “If someone is sentenced many decades after they committed a crime and where they are so infirm as to pose no continuing danger, then the courts should explore other options than simply imprisonment.”
The Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, said: “We are committed to ensuring older prisoners are treated fairly and have already introduced a range of provisions across the prison estate to meet their needs.”