Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis Healthcare in Prisons

Elderly prisoners

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 15 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6263

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Stephen Ginn, Roger Robinson editorial registrar
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. mail{at}

Prisons were designed for fit young men, making life difficult for the rising population of older prisoners. Stephen Ginn looks at the problems

Older prisoners are now the fastest growing subgroup of prisoners in England and Wales.1 There are about 8000 prisoners aged 50 and over, comprising 11% of the prison population,1 and many have multiple health and social needs.

Some of the rise in older prisoners is attributable to the overall growth of the prison population,2 which has doubled in the past 20 years.3 The increase in older prisoners, however, outstrips that of other groups (fig 1).2 A key factor seems to be a greater inclination on the part of the authorities to secure convictions against sex offenders.4 Forty two per cent of men aged over 50 in prison have convictions for sexual offences (table 1).1 5 Sexual offenders are given long sentences, and advances in forensic science mean that it is possible to secure convictions for “historical” crimes.4 When it comes to sentencing, the age of an older offender rarely has any bearing.6

Fig 1 Age distribution among sentenced men, England and Wales, 2000 and 20102

View this table:

Distribution of offences among men aged over 50 years in prison in England and Wales, 20115

For researchers, “older” prisoners are aged 50-60 and above.7 Although a 50 year old man in the community would not usually be described as old, observers suggest that typical prisoners are functionally older than their chronological age. This is as a result of their previous lifestyle, lack of prior medical care, and the experience of incarceration.7 8 9

Most prison research has focused on young men, with older prisoners seldom included.10 There is a lack of knowledge concerning …

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