Ageing prison population Contents

4Regimes and activity for older prisoners

46.All prisoners are meant to have sufficient time out of their cells and be able to engage in appropriate activities which support their rehabilitation. However, older prisoners can face challenges to participating in the standard prison regime. Disability, reduced mobility, or health problems can mean it takes longer and be more difficult for them to access different parts of a prison.110 The design of some prison buildings can also impede access. Some older prisoners may also be unable to participate in activities with younger cohorts, such as exercise classes and physical work in prison workshops.111

47.The needs of older prisoners concerning purposeful activity can differ from those of their younger counterparts. They are more likely to have qualifications or previous work experience.112 Many will be above retirement age when released; those given longer sentences later in life may never be released. Employability-focused education and skills programmes may be unsuited to older prisoners. As in the community, prisoners above the age of retirement are able to continue working in prison if they wish, but can choose not to.113

48.The social needs of older prisoners can also be distinct. Some may feel vulnerable and intimidated while among younger prisoners, and they are at greater risk of bullying and intimidation.114 Surveys conducted by G4S at prisons they manage show that older prisoners’ perception of violence is greater than that of younger prisoners at the same site. The cohort also reported higher levels of being subject to anti-social behaviour and bullying.115 At the same time, there can be more reliance on custodial communities among the cohort as social connections with friends and family often reduce as prisoners age.116 This can be because elderly friends and family find it more difficult to travel to visit older prisoners. Additionally, a disproportionate number of older prisoners do not have contact with their families because the nature of their offence has led them to be dissociated or, such as in some sexual offence cases, prohibited from making contact.117

49.Guidance about the regime for older prisoners is set out and available to prison governors in HMPPS’s Model for Operational Delivery: Older Prisoners. Activity considerations are also given in RECOOP’s Good Practice Guide, which was commissioned by HMPPS. The MoJ pointed to changes to the prison education system, which give governors more control over education and activity commissioning in their establishments.118 However, evidence we received indicates that provision of appropriate activities for older prisoners varies across the prison estate. We were informed of very good practice, with some prisons developing initiatives such as separate exercise classes, with gentler forms of physical activity for those with reduced mobility. Some prisons also provide activities and social forums tailored to older prisoners, which allow them to interact with other inmates of a similar age. For example, HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported that:

Many prisons offered some specific physical education provision and some had introduced physical activities more suited to less mobile prisoners such as walking football, seated aerobics and bowls. We also saw examples of spaces for older prisoners to socialise and engage in recreation. At Standford Hill, the lounge in the chapel was reserved for older prisoners, and Moorland had created a number of ‘retreats’ for older prisoners on some of the house blocks.119

50.Prisons with a substantial population of older prisoners are reportedly more likely to have good regime provisions for the cohort.120 Several have developed day care or activity centres for older prisoners, often in partnership with third-sector organisations. HMP Wymott, for example, provides a day centre called ‘Cameo’, run by the Salvation Army. This offers a range of activities for older inmates across the prison. Alan Cropper, a residential governor and lead manager for older prisoners at Wymott, described the benefits of the centre:

The older prisoners feel safe when they go to the CAMEO centre. They are among friends and they meet prisoners from other parts of the jail whom they would not usually meet. It is well managed by the Salvation Army. There are no operational officers in there. We have had no alarm bells in the centre that I can remember, and it is well received.121

51.At some prisons, activities provided for older prisoners are limited or oversubscribed.122 This can often be due to staff shortages; activities for older prisoners may depend on the availability of a single member of staff and are thus highly contingent on wider pressures in the prison.123 Other establishments lack age-specific provisions entirely and have little purposeful activity for those prisoners not in work.124HMIP and the CQC cited examples of prisons where older inmates who did not work were routinely confined to their cells for 22 hours or more each day.125 Excessive confinement and a lack of purposeful activity can negatively affect the physical and mental health of prisoners, and does not support their rehabilitation.

52.Some evidence also noted that older prisoners who are retired or unable to work can be disadvantaged financially. They may struggle to afford essentials such toiletries and phone credit.126 The nationally recommended retirement pay for prisoners is £3.25 per week but payments vary widely across the prison estate and are higher at some establishments.127 Non-working prisoners can also lack opportunities to reach the enhanced level of the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme, since this generally depends on prisoners undertaking responsible paid jobs within a prison.128 The Prison Reform Trust noted, however, that the most recent Incentives Policy Framework refers to the access of older prisoners to the scheme.129

Interactions with prison staff

53.Some submissions suggested that prison staff can lack awareness of the needs of older prisoners and that the cohort can lack a voice within the prison regime at some establishments.130 As they are generally a minority group and typically more compliant and ‘quieter’ than their younger peers, older prisoners can be overlooked by staff focusing on the needs of the latter. Evidence from a former prisoner illustrated this ‘institutional thoughtlessness’:131

An older prisoner requests assistance from an officer and is typically polite and waits his turn. If the officer is speaking with another prisoner, he will step back to afford them some privacy. When that conversation is finished, the older person advances to speak but is queue-jumped by a youngster. The officer smiles ruefully knowing that he risks no violence from the older prisoner. The bell goes, the old man goes to work with his question unanswered. The youngster doesn’t care if he is late for work.132

54.A potential way to address this could be for prisons to assign specific staff to lead the management of older prisoners and represent their interests.133 These types of arrangement already exist at some prisoners, such as HMP Wymott. Paul Grainge, Chief Officer at RECOOP, described the impetus for such initiatives:

We find that sometimes the staff who have responsibility for equalities, where generally this cohort are looked after, tend to work a shift pattern. Sometimes they are on nights and sometimes they are off for two weeks at a time, and you do not get dedicated focus and support for the cohort. It is a secondary duty, so it does not necessarily get the time investment that it should. We would love to see a designated governor and a local prison plan to adapt the regime so that it meets the demographic of that particular cohort and the percentage of it they have. That would be really beneficial.134

55.There needs to be greater recognition across the prison estate that some older prisoners will be unable to engage with the normal regime. Suitable activities and forums should be available to older prisoners to support their welfare and rehabilitation. We commend the excellent work done by some establishments, but provision of these is lacking in many prisons. HMPPS should ensure that guidance and best practice on regime provisions for older prisoners is applied across the prison estate. We recommend that all prisons have a designated older prisoner lead, who can ensure that the older prison population has a voice and is managed most appropriately.


110 Independent Monitoring Boards (AGE0034)

111 Clinks and RECOOP (AGE0018)

113 HM Inspector of Prisons (AGE0039)

114 Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement (AGE0036); Serco Ltd (AGE0028); Catholic Bishops’ Conference (AGE0004)

115 G4S (AGE0037)

116 G4S (AGE0037)

117 Clinks and RECOOP (AGE0018)

118 Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement (AGE0036)

119 HM Inspector of Prisons (AGE0039)

120 Prison Reform Trust (AGE0021)

122 Care Quality Commission (AGE0038)

123 Independent Monitoring Boards (AGE0034)

124 Independent Monitoring Boards (AGE0034); Prison Reform Trust (AGE0021); Women in Prison (AGE0027)

125 Care Quality Commission (AGE0038); HM Inspector of Prisons (AGE0039)

126 Criminal Justice Alliance (AGE0020)

127 Independent Monitoring Boards (AGE0034)

128 HM Inspector of Prisons (AGE0039)

129 Prison Reform Trust (AGE0021)

130 G4S (AGE0037); De Profundis Ltd (AGE0001); Women in Prison (AGE0027)

131 G4S (AGE0037)

132 A former prisoner (AGE0006)

133 Women in Prison (AGE0027)




Published: 27 July 2020