Australian Institute of Criminology

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The Challenge of Older Prisoners

Media Release

23 August 2011

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) today released a Trends & Issues paper on Older Prisoners – a challenge for Australian corrections examining the clear trend towards increased numbers of older prisoners. As the prison population has aged over the last decade, an extra 1500 inmates who are over 50 are now in prisons around the country.

Report co-author Susan Baidawi said: 'Older prisoner populations present a number of challenges for governments, correctional administrators, healthcare providers and community agencies.'

In 2010, inmates over the age of 50 comprised 11.2% of the Australian prison population. This contrasts with the situation in 2000, when only 8.3% of prisoners were aged 50 years and over. In terms of raw prisoner numbers, this equates to approximately 1500 additional older inmates—an increase of 84% (ABS).

An acceleration of the ageing process among prisoners is generally attributed to a combination of the lifestyle of offenders prior to entering prison - including poor nutrition, substance misuse and a lack of medical care - and the understanding that prison environments may escalate age-related illnesses and conditions

In 2010, the numbers of older Indigenous prisoners were relatively lower, comprising only 9.5% of males (294) and 7% of females (15) aged 50 years and over but this may reflect the lower median age of death of Indigenous Australians compared with non-Indigenous Australians (52.5 years for men and 61.3 years for women in 2009; ABS 2009).

Indigenous prisoners would therefore be expected to be affected by age-related health issues at a younger age than other prisoners and this should be accounted for in future research and practice – for example, by altering the definition of 'older' for Indigenous prisoners to 45 years and over.

The paper also examines issues such as the costs of responding to rising healthcare needs, and infrastructure issues surrounding accommodation and correctional programs for older prisoners such as disability needs. This may include the establishment of special needs units for older prisoners and the employment of specialist staff, and specialised post-release services.

'There is little Australian literature concerning older prisoners. Policymakers and administrators are heavily reliant on the international literature both to understand this population and to design management strategies for this group,' Susan Baidawi said.

'Research should be systematic and focus on characterisation of the domestic older prisoner cohort. Understanding these issues is an essential starting point for clear policy for the management of older inmates in Australian prisons.'