Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Britain is no country for old men in prison

First the facts are :

* that Ministry of Justice figures reveal a 20% increase in the number of over 60 year olds held in prison  from 2,811 in 2008 to 3,333 today and most of these are men or 'Saga louts' as they have been dubbed.

* the figure has trebled over the past 20 years and the over-60s are now the fastest-growing age group in prisons in England and Wales and the oldest was 92 as of last year

* the increase in the number of  'old lags' has led to concern about how prisons cater for them since most of them were built during the 19th century and are unsuitable for old men, especially those with disabilities.

* rather than hordes of delinquent old men embarking on a 'grey crime wave', experts believe one of the driving factors is tougher sentencing with the average crown-court custodial sentence increasing by three months to 25.2 months over the past decade with less tolerance towards the old men from the judiciary, as well as society as a whole.

* the first report on the issue, published in 2008 by the former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers, criticised the prison service for having 'no national strategy for older prisoners' and it added that their needs were 'too often not met'.

* charities have said that, just as young offenders need special provision within the penal system, so too, do the over-60s and their needs are not being met.

* a recent survey by the 'Prison Governors Association' found that most prisons lacked the facilities to cope with growing numbers of old prisoners and the issues which arose from mixing frail old men with the general prison population.

* Kingston prison in Portsmouth was the first prison in the country to provide a specialist elderly wing, equipped with stair lifts and other adaptations and others are likely to follow as the elderly prison population grows.

* Greg Lewis, Programme Manager for the charity 'Age UK', has said:

- 'there are a number of factors here. One is the change in social and police attitudes towards older people, particularly with regards to sexual offences, and society is becoming less tolerant in its attitude towards older people. There also appears to be less tolerance in the courts in dealing with older people and a greater readiness to imprison them'.

-  'the increase could also be a result of increased use of DNA technology yielding prosecutions for crimes which might otherwise have remained unsolved with old men in their 70s and 80s who committed crimes 30 or 40 years ago,  increasingly likely to receive a knock on the door from the police'.

Age UK says it wants to ensure that older prisoners are not being treated any worse than younger prisoners :

-  'there appears to be some evidence of that older people being discriminated against in prison, simply because they are old.'

* the elderly crime wave doesn't appear to be confined to Britain and in the Netherlands research and found the same sharp increase over the last decade with a large percentage of over-60s appearing in court had undiagnosed dementia.

* A Prison Service spokesperson said: "We are committed to ensuring that older prisoners are treated fairly and that aspects of the regime are suitable, available and accessible. Prisons reflect society and, as such, the numbers of older prisoners have increased gradually. Governors are working to ensure suitable facilities are provided and healthcare needs are met, as well as working with charities such as 'Age UK' and 'Recoop', who focus on resettlement."

Trevor C age 62, in prison for the first time, serving a year for possessing thousands of pounds worth of cannabis and black market cigarettes said :

"It was a shock to the system. To be told what to do and locked up, and you just can't go out for a walk around – it was horrendous. I like a little drink now and again and I like to be able to just get in my car and go out for a ride. They're the sort of things I miss now, and being with my family and having a laugh and a joke at home. It's definitely a sentence, being here. I think I've learned my lesson now."

Brothers, Roy and Gerry D, aged 69 and 70, have served 7 prison sentences for robbery, handling stolen goods and grievous bodily harm with Gerry saying :
"It [prison] don't hold no terror for me. That's a fact. I don't think it would for him, either." However, Roy said:
 "I would cry into my pillow every night. And I mean it."

John D. age 77, drug dealer, who has served 3 prison terms, turned to crime in later life after he married his home help, found she had a heroin habit, became her supplier and developed into a dealer in his home town of Banff in Scotland said :

"People my age don't do the things I want to do, they want to play bowls and stuff like that. I thought I was the smartest of the smart, and I still got caught."

I shall watch with interest a new ITV documentary on Thursday evening, 'Pensioners Behind Bars', which highlights this growing problem for a minority of Britain's old men.

As a lighter antidote to a serious subject :
an excerpt for the comedy series, 'Porridge' with the late Ronnie Barker playing 'Fletcher' and David Jason, the old lag, 'Blanco', conversing about Blanco's crime half way through the clip :


Earlier posts about an old men in prison :

Thursday, 16 February 2012
Britain is no country for very old men who wish to return to the rivers where they poached for salmon when they were young men

January 2012
Britain is a country where old men die in prison " at the last stop before Heaven or Hell"

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