• Wondering about older people in prison 06 August 2018 | View comments

  • 6th August 2018 | By David Jolley

    The week ahead includes a visit to Stafford Prison. I am going as part of an initiative by Christians on Ageing who have been keen to discover if there any ways in which we can be helpful to older people in prison or those who are responsible for their welfare. This is a potentially important area of work as the number of people over 60 years of age has tripled in 15 years and there are now more than 14,000 prisoners aged over 50 years.

    My approach was welcomed by the lady who acts as chaplain to the prison but I am a bit apprehensive about what I will find and how such a visit will be received. Johnny Cash’s concert at Folsom Prison is a favourite and shows him to have been very well received – But he was bringing entertainment with his singing, and he was going as someone who had spent time in jail himself and made clear the felt an affinity for their circumstances.

    I am interested to listen and learn. Colleagues at the PSSRU in Manchester have researched the social needs of older prisoners https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/bjsw/bcx115/4568986 and there is a growing literature on the health needs, including psychiatric morbidity of this group and their families. https://www.ppo.gov.uk/prison-service-needs-strategy-to-deal-with-growing-numbers-of-older-prisoners-says-ombudsman/ This is not a phenomenon which is unique to the UK – studies in the USA have included a review of faith and spirituality amongst older prisoners and found that the presence of faith and involvement in religious meetings and activities is associate with better mental well-being. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/48/5/692/625313

    My understanding is that the numbers have swollen by survival of long-term and ‘lifer’ prisoners and by the incarceration of some older people for crimes of sexual misuse committed many years ago but only recently brought to the courts. Both might have time to reflect on great themes and the mysteries of life. I know there are some opportunities to be involved with educational courses www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/. Studies suggest that maintain links with family may not be possible for some and there must be anxieties about what life can be like when leaving prison after such a dislocation. We do hear of people coming to faith during time in prison. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/26/religion-prisonsandprobation.

    This is generally seen to be a good thing and gives hope for a better future. On the other hand ‘radicalisation’ of vulnerable and impressionable individuals in the name of a faith is recognised to be a danger. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/new-counter-extremism-taskforce-tackle-poisonous-repugnant-radicalisation/

    From a person perspective and from the context of Christians on Ageing, this will be a learning experience with a mind as open as I can keep it.

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