By Julian Bajkowski
A bid by the Victorian shire of Ararat to entice the state government to construct Australia’s first purpose-built gaol for elderly criminals has been greeted with a cool but polite response from correctional authorities who concede they face issues from an ageing population of insiders.
Leaders of the rural community are reportedly pushing Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine to expand the existing captive market in secure accommodation for offenders in the town by locating the equivalent of a nursing home behind bars near Ararat’s existing hospital.
The safe accommodation of elderly prisoners is a growing issue for state correctional authorities across Australia as general improvements in both health care and prison management conspire to produce a growing number of ageing inmates who require higher levels of support as they serve out often lengthy sentences.
“As in the general community, the ageing population will pose some challenges for the prison system, not just in Victoria but right across the country,” a Corrections Victoria spokesperson told AAA’s sister publication Government News.
“Victoria’s prison system already has a range of accommodation options to support older prisoners with medical or mental health problems.
“While Corrections Victoria continues to develop its specialist programs, facilities, health and support services to meet the needs of older prisoners, we welcome any suggestions that may assist in dealing with the issue,” the Corrections Victoria spokesperson said.
Mobility, wheelchair access, medication and different activities regimes are just the beginning of challenges for authorities and older prisoners.
An all too real issue prison authorities is that as inmates enter the later stages of life inside, they can become more vulnerable to demands and intimidation by younger and or physically fitter prisoners.
Another real issue is managing conditions like depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and cancers in a secure but humane manner.
Although not all councils necessarily welcome the construction of new gaols within their boundaries, the facilities can often offer a big boost in terms of local employment and economic activity to communities where traditional industries have declined.
Even when the location of prisons within regional areas is welcomed by communities, welfare and prisoner support groups have historically cautioned that mainstream facilities ought to be located in placers that are affordably accessible for the relatives, partners and children of those serving out sentences to maximise the chances of their rehabilitation.