New figures show that 16% of UK inmates (13,617) are aged 50 or above. From this population, another 1,759 are aged over 70 years. The number of British prisoners aged 70 or above is expected to have risen by 35% between 2016 and 2020[1].

According to the Prison Reform Trust, the rate of prison admissions in the UK is twice as high as Germany, with 238 admissions per 100,000 population. Scotland has 150 out of 100,000 people admitted into prison, resulting in it having the highest admission rate in Britain.[2]

 prison wall

The number of elderly UK prisoners has tripled since 2002. The report: Who Cares? The Lived Experience of Older Prisoners in Scotland's Prisons interviewed both prisoners and prison staff to gauge the current situation regarding a rapidly ageing prison population.

The report revealed that 41.5% of older detainees, especially those with lengthy sentences, were worried that they would die in prison. Worsening health (38.9%) and loss of family Contact (34.6%) were also significant concerns for ageing prisoners.[3]

Additionally, the study found that out of all elderly prisoners interviewed, 85.1% required prescribed medication, and 58.1% reported that their health had deteriorated since their admittance into prison.[4]

Due to failing health, some prisoners interviewed expressed concerns that their lack of mobility confines them to their cells. One inmate explained that "we get our meals brought to us in the section because we can't go to the dining hall". [5]

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) currently spends £1 million per year on social care packages for elderly prisoners. However, the SPS has stated that the needs of these inmates are not met.[6]


Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen has highlighted that prisons and its staff will have to take on care home and palliative care roles. [7]

Prison officers have become increasingly concerned with how to manage and care for a growing elderly prison population. One Scottish prison staff member stated that "You've got no idea how difficult it can be trying to place some of the elderly prisoners. At times when we are trying to figure out where to put somebody, we are literally having to make an assessment as to who can and who cannot make it up and down to the top bunk."[8]

The Who Cares? report also encourages the SPS to appropriately train staff so that they can adequately care for inmates with dementia and other age-related health problems.[9]

Andy Baxter, a prison officer and spokesperson for The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA) emphasised that staff "are massively under-resourced to deal with the amount of care older prisoners need and the training we have".[10] The SPS has also worried that the adjustments made the prison officer role may also have a traumatic impact on staff as they care for someone at the end of their life.[11]

Prison Reform Trust research has shown that around 67% of English prisons are over-crowded.[12] As a result, a think tank has suggested that releasing elderly and terminally ill prisoners (depending on what they have been convicted for) could reduce pressures put on prisons and staff and save up to £246 million per year.[13]

Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust, voiced his concerns that "an increasingly elderly and frail prison population creates huge challenges for a prison system already struggling to cope".[14]

In contrast, the Prison Service has stated that it is working with local councils and healthcare providers to ensure that the needs of elderly prisoners are met. Additionally, prisons such as HMP Birmingham have restructured one of its wings to specially accommodate and care for elderly inmates.[15]

Despite recent changes, there are calls for more to be done regarding this issue for both inmates and staff. Chief Inspector for Prisons, Peter Clarke, emphasised that the prison service should accommodate for older inmates as the current system in place does not work for them.[16]



[3] p.3

[4] Ibid p.3

[5] Ibid p.21



[8] Ibid p.22

[9] Ibid p.44