Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Pensioner Prisons' Could House Soaring Number of Elderly Inmates

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Pensioner Prisons' Could House Soaring Number of Elderly Inmates

Article excerpt

Byline: Martin Bentham Home Affairs Editor

THOUSANDS of elderly inmates, including murderers and other violent criminals, could be moved out of prison and held in new specialist pensioner detention units, under proposals from the Government's jails watchdog.

Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said reform was needed as conventional prisons were unsuitable for ageing inmates with disabilities or those needing palliative care as they approach the end of their lives.

He also wants ministers to consider whether it is necessary to detain the elderly "in the security levels that prisons provide", and whether pensioner convicts pose the same risk of escape as other inmates.

Instead "some other form of secure accommodation" is needed, he suggests, in comments that could pave the way for a network of "pensioner prisons". In an interview with the Standard, Mr Clarke also revealed that previous ministers failed to respond to warnings given by him a decade ago about the risk of radicalisation in jails. The chief inspector, who at the time led Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command, said a new "safeguarding" strategy was needed to tackle the problem.

His most striking comments, however, were on the need to address the rising elderly population in jails. Mr Clarke said there were more than 4,000 people in prison aged over 60 and more than 100 aged over 80: "The proportion in the prison population above work age is increasing quite dramatically.

"A lot of these people are on very long sentences...and at some point there needs to be some consideration of whether prison is the right environment, whether it's necessary to hold them in the security levels that prisons provide or whether some other form of secure accommodation more suited to managing the risk that they present is found."

He conceded that many elderly inmates would have committed serious crimes and some critics might oppose their removal from conventional jails but a new approach is still needed.

"It's nothing to do with going soft," he said. "All I am saying is, are they in the right type of custody when they are getting very elderly, disabled and infirm, and possibly near the end of their lives? …

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