Graying prisoners in Singapore

Singapore’s prisons is looking to prototype the first age-friendly prison cell.

With a growing ageing population, this will mean many facilities will need to re-think the existing environments to cater to seniors. This includes Singapore’s prisons, which is looking to prototype the first age-friendly prison cell here that are retrofitted with anti-slip floors, grab bars and hand rails, among other features.

According to a newspaper article in “Today”, among those locked up, 418 were above 60 years of age last year, an increase from the 2010 figure of 217. According to an invitation to tender posted on the Government procurement site, GeBiz, the focus of the proposed enhancements is the toilet areas in 23 existing cells.

The article shared: “New water closets with huge push buttons and stainless steel grab-bars will be installed, while existing shower roses will be fitted with self-closing taps with large buttons. Grab bars and hand rails will also be mounted with tamper-resistant accessories. The overall toilet area will also be enlarged, with sufficient space for portable commodes.”


Other countries are not immune

This trend to accommodate elderly inmates isn’t only reflective of Singapore. In the US, the number of prisoners age 50 or older experienced a 330 percent increase from 1994 to 2011. Shared US’ non-profit Urban Institute (conducts research and offers evidence-based solutions to improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanising world) in an article on its website last year, “… state and federal prisons are now experiencing unprecedented levels of older inmates, which have significant implications for corrections’ budgets. Not only do older prisons require more treatment and medical care than younger prisoners, their needs may also require more time and effort from the prison staffs, such as when a staff member gives them medicine or monitors their daily chores. Staff may also need to provide more surveillance and protection to older prisoners, as they are more likely than younger prisoners to experience physical injuries and victimisation.”

And to further compound this issue is the “physiological” age of the average prisoner – due to the stress of being incarcerated – can be as much as 15 years higher than their actual age.

Urban Institute, which came out with a report on this issue, added that the annual cost of incarcerating an individual age 50 and older has been estimated at US$68,270, double that of a younger offender. “This estimate equates to US$16 billion a year spent on older inmates nationally, even though they make up less than 20 percent of the total prison population. To put that number into perspective, S$16 billion is enough to put 170,000 people through a four-year college,” it said.

The organisation further shared that the current discussion about ageing prisoners tends to focus on geriatric prisoners who are severely ill or dying, and that it should go beyond that. “Correctional programmes and policies for ageing prisoners (such as the existing hospice care, palliative care or compassionate release programmes) should be extended to a broader population of older prisoners,” it said.

The organisation also recommended to develop a set of guidelines for assessing the health of older prisoners as this would help correctional officers detect common geriatric symptoms such as sensory, cognitive and functional impairments, and incontinence. This also would include “prison-based functional impairment” such as getting from the cell to the dining hall, climbing on and off the bunk, hearing orders from staff and getting down on the floor for alarms. It also suggested that a screening tool could also provide useful baseline information about the needs of ageing prisoners and serve as an early intervention point for preventive care.

Other suggestions include training correctional officers about ageing and the needs of older prisons, and expanding the use of preventive healthcare/dental care, early diagnosis and early treatment among ageing prisons so they can “avoid serious health problems and lead to savings in healthcare costs”.

“Policymakers and lawmakers should devise options for better managing and treating a broader population of older prisoners to avoid serious health problems and hefty incarceration costs,” said the article.

US’s neighbour Canada also is having issues in this area. According to a post on the International Federation on Ageing website this year, Margaret Easton, president of the Meridian Aging Project (provides seminars and training programs for businesses covering a wide range of topics related to ageing), said: “The ageing of Canada’s prison population and the many issues it raises is seriously neglected.” She said as of March 2013, there were 15,224 prisoners in 57 federal penitentiaries serving sentences of more than two years and the proportion of that population over the age of 50 continues to increase rapidly and represents nearly 20 percent of the total federal prison population.

And these older inmates have a number of health issues including diabetes, Hepatitis C, cardiovascular issues, respiratory problems, mental health problems (anxiety and depression) and dementia, musculoskeletal problems and neurological problems.

(** PHOTO CREDIT: Singapore Prison Service)



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