Australia’s corrective services have been urged to brace for a surge in the number of older prisoners with dementia as the nation’s prison system grapples with a rapidly ageing inmate population.
Alzheimer’s Australia NSW CEO John Watkins said longer incarceration periods, mandatory prison sentences and an increase in the number of older first time offenders were all contributing to a growing older prison population and rise in cases of dementia behind bars.
According to ABS data, between 2000 and 2012 the number of older prisoners (aged 50 plus) in Australia increased by approximately 95 per cent to over 3,500 prisoners, and inmates aged over 65 rose by 166 per cent.
Mr Watkins said Australia’s prison population was ageing at a faster rate than the general population and while the number of people incarcerated with dementia was unknown, prisoners were at high risk of developing dementia. He said the structured, routine operation of day-to-day life in prison could also mean a person with dementia could go unnoticed for a considerable period.
To meet this growing challenge, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW has called for a raft of changes to reform Australia’s prison system including dementia-specific training for correctional staff, routine assessment of dementia as part of inmate health checks and an expansion of specialised health services and support.
The discussion paper launched by the peak body on Wednesday pointed to the dedicated facilities and services offered by the NSW Justice Heath & Forensic Mental Health Network as a model to replicate in other states and territories.
The NSW service includes an inpatient facility in Long Bay Hospital for older prisoners requiring long-term supported care and a specialised unit for older prisoners to live independently from the mainstream prison population with support from a disability service.
Ageing inmates also have access to occupational therapists through a collaboration with Calvary Healthcare.
Diverse models of aged care for older prisoners have been adopted overseas including the creation of dedicated nursing home prisons in the US and Germany and a dementia-specific prison unit in New York.
Last year, Ararat Rural City Council in Victoria presented a proposal to the Victorian Government to establish Australia’s first prison aged care facility, which is yet to receive the green light.
The Alzheimer’s Australia NSW paper said further research was necessary to explore alternative accommodation arrangements for the projected numbers of prisoners with dementia to address safety issues and access to specialist staff.
The report also recommended making other changes to the physical environment of prisons for people with dementia including different coloured cell doors for the person’s shower and toilet space and big print signage and pictures.
Read the full paper: Dementia in Prison