The independent Corrections’ Inspectorate has released its thematic report on older people (aged 65 and over) in New Zealand prisons and has found that Corrections, on the whole, has a caring and respectful approach to managing their needs.

This is the first thematic inspection carried out by the Inspectorate and was conducted between June and August 2019.

Corrections’ Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales says the report provides valuable independent feedback for the treatment of older people in prison but Mr Beales says that, while numbers in this age group have been growing in recent years, at 3 percent, they are a small proportion of the overall prison population.

“While numbers are still low, the needs of this group of prisoners are usually high and complex,” said Mr Beales.

At June 30, 2020 there were 280 people in prison (278 male, 2 female) aged 65 years or older. Most of this group (229) were serving sentences for sexual offending.

“A number of these prisoners have sexual offending against children as their primary offence and this creates challenges for our staff in planning for their rehabilitation and future reintegration into the community from prison,” said Mr Beales.

The Inspectorate’s report recommends that Corrections develops a plan to respond to specific age-related needs and Mr Beales says a lot of that work is already underway.

“Our Health Services team use the Ministry of Health’s ‘National Healthy Ageing Strategy’ as a framework to align our plans for delivering services to this age group. This includes work around aspects of ageing well; acute and restorative care; living well with long term conditions; respectful end of life care and supporting people with high and complex needs.”

“Alongside this our organisational strategy Hōkai Rangi, gives staff a clear direction that all efforts they make are to ensure the wellness and wellbeing of people,” said Mr Beales.

“The Inspectorate acknowledges this and believes that the development of Hōkai Rangi leaves Corrections in a good position to provide the necessary care and support of ageing prisoners.”

As a result of the report, Corrections has developed work on how it may implement new programmes to maintain the health of ageing people in prison. These include:

  • Developing sustainable exercise programmes that improve an individual’s strength and balance, helping to prevent falls.
  • Understanding communication skills required to support people in prison experiencing cognitive decline or dementia.
  • Considering environmental changes to support older people with impaired vision, hearing and reduced mobility.
  • Identifying who our older people are and the impairments they are managing – for example through the use of screening tools.
  • Continuing family engagement to support social connections.

Corrections’ Health Services team also plans to identify, support and manage prisoners with long term conditions by:

  • adopting a frailty screening tool to inform preventative care planning
  • having a respectful end of life – for example giving consideration to Advanced Care Plans.

“Every day our staff go to work to ensure accepted international standards of safety, human dignity, rehabilitation and reintegration needs within our prisons are met,” said Mr Beales.

“We are committed to ensuring that we operate a prison network that protects the safety of the prisoners we manage, our staff, contractors and visitors, and New Zealand communities. We do this by providing offenders with access to health and wellness services and every opportunity for change through participation in rehabilitation, education and employment.”

The report is available on the Office of the Inspectorate website.