Older prisoners: The lived experience of older people in New Zealand prisons

Executive Summary

The past few decades have seen an increase in the number of older prisoners (aged 65 and older) in New Zealand. This demographic shift is largely due to longer prison sentences and increased numbers of people serving sentences for historic sex offences. The numbers are forecast to continue to grow.

Older prisoners present a range of mainly health-related issues which require special management to ensure their imprisonment is safe and humane.

The prison environment, prisoner regimes and support services are typically designed for younger prisoners. In response to this, many comparable jurisdictions, including England, Scotland and Canada, have developed strategies for the needs of their older prisoner populations.

This thematic inspection provides insight into the current treatment of, and conditions experienced by, older prisoners. It provides the Department of Corrections with an early warning of the risks and challenges associated with managing older prisoners.

The areas examined in depth are: environment, safe and humane treatment, health and wellbeing, purposeful activity, rehabilitation and reintegration, post-release support and staff training.

This report finds, overall, that older prisoners’ basic needs are generally being met. Most Corrections staff we spoke with and observed demonstrated innovation, care and respectful decision-making. However, there is an increasing demand for prisons to provide care home-type environments for many older prisoners and for staff to support their specific needs.

The report makes one overarching recommendation: that Corrections should develop, appropriately resource, and implement a comprehensive Older Prisoners’ Wellbeing Strategy to respond to the age-related needs of older prisoners.

Further, Corrections is urged to consider a number of identified areas as part of the strategy. These include ensuring that older prisoners are placed in an environment appropriate to their needs, restraints are only used if absolutely necessary, more specific accommodation for older prisoners is provided, rehabilitation and reintegration support can be more easily accessed, and health oversight is increased. The report highlights the need for more training to enable staff to respond effectively to the age-related needs of older prisoners.

Overall, it is hoped that the recommendation will help prisons better manage the increasing numbers of older people in Corrections’ care.