The proportion of older persons in prison continues to rise in many countries. There is no global data on the number of older persons in prison. Known rates vary from 1.8% of prison populations in Indonesia to as high as 20% in Japan. In Australia, there has been a 311% increase in the daily average number of older persons in prison in the last 20 years.
Health-related issues for older persons are frequently misunderstood or overlooked due to inadequately trained personnel in the various criminal justice agencies. For instance, sensory impairments (such as vision and hearing loss) make it difficult for older persons to comply with police officers during an arrest, adequately participate in their own defense at adjudication, or avoid victimisation while detained
The management of older people in prison often puts a major strain on prison staff who are not trained to deal with complex medical needs or with deaths of older people in prison.
Prison administrations face challenges in providing appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for older persons in prison. This is because most rehabilitation programmes focus on work and vocational activities, which older people may struggle to participate in, or do not address their specific needs.
It has been found that some prisons with high proportions of older persons are increasingly required to fulfil the same functions as nursing homes, hospices or long-term care facilities.
Specialised geriatric facilities as part of prison estates are becoming more common in some areas of the world. There are some concerns, however, that these can be isolating.
Studies suggest that mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are common among older persons detained.
A considerable number of people who die in custody – though not all – pose minimal to no threat to public safety once their illnesses and/or disabilities progress beyond a certain stage. However, early release mechanisms are not always in place and where they are do not prove effective in enabling older (or terminally ill) people to be with their families or support networks for their last days.