Prisons Aren’t Care Homes

The “creditor” always becomes more humane to the extent that he has grown richer.… It is not unthinkable that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it—letting those who harm it go unpunished. “What are my parasites to me?” it might say. “May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!” Nietzsche* p 10

Britain has a growing number of geriatric prisoners. The British prison population reflects society’s increasing life expectancy. This presents unique challenges to the Prison Service. Geriatric prisoners have increased in number recently (2010-16) because of convictions of historic sex offenders. These offenders committed crimes in the 1960s and 70s as young(ish) men. Now they are elderly. There are also criminals serving whole-life tariffs without possibility of release. Regardless of their crimes, no matter how heinous, is prison the right place for geriatrics? Many geriatrics suffer from severe mental health issues and the usual repertoire of cancers. Prisons aren’t hospitals or care homes and their support of seriously ill people is poor. Perhaps a form of secure care home is a humane solution?

Special provision for certain groups of criminals isn’t novel. Broadmoor Hospital was founded in 1863 for the criminally insane. Broadmoor isn’t a prison**. There is movement between Broadmoor and the Prison Service as the pyschiatric services achieve success in healing the criminally insane. They can then serve their sentences in prison. Is Broadmoor a template for the growing geriatric challenge though without the prospect of ‘cure’?

Criminals serving whole-life tariffs are the worst of the worst. These people have committed the most heinous of crimes and are irretrievably criminal and dangerous. Retribution and the protection of the public takes primacy. A whole-life tariff is an administrative death sentence: death by minutes, as it were. Even assuming that such sentences have merit their potency fades into nonsense if the prisoner is unaware they are being punished. However, not every geriatric is mentally incompetent or physically decrepit. Should there be a judgement prior to their release into a secure geriatric care home? Given the nature of the crimes involved this would be disastrous as the media would almost certainly create a storm of protest at ‘soft’ treatment of heinous criminals. A precept is far more elegant: over 80 means transfer to a secure care home.

Many geriatric criminals have not committed heinous crimes. The spate of historic sex convictions of elderly men heightens the probability that there will be a significant increase in geriatric prisoners . Rolf Harris*** was eighty four when convicted of his historic sex offences. He was sentenced to five+ years, which with remission should reduce to about three years. The non-celebrity Dr Malcolm Salmon (79) abused his position and molested and raped children. He was sentenced to eighteen years. So the question is: why have men aged 80+ been sentenced to prison? Obviously there is a sense that the victims (and society) require retribution. But their crimes mean it is virtually impossible to reoffend and society doesn’t, as it were, need ‘protecting’. There is no possibility of rehabilitation. Is retribution sufficient reason to sentence criminals to administrative death? Criminals over 80 will inevitably become frail with multiple illnesses**** dying incarcerated. Britain doesn’t have formal death sentences but has administrative executions: silent, inexorable and behind closed doors. John Straffen spent fifty-five years in either Broadmoor or prison for murder. He died in prison. There are forty-nine whole-life tariff prisoners in Britain (Sept 2016) including Ian Brady (72). Not all of these people will survive to 80 but it is entirely probable that some of them will.

Winston Churchill adds to Nietzsche’s startling suggestion:

The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry of all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.” Hansard 20th July 1910

The state has a duty of care towards geriatric prisoners. Whether the state likes it or not the outcome of draconian sentencing policies is that there will be increasing numbers of geriatrics in prison who cannot be left to rot. Prisons aren’t care homes and geriatrics require care. The logic of the situation is that secure care homes should be an immediate priority for the humane care of criminal geriatrics.

*Nietzsche understand ‘creditor’ to mean the right of the masters, that is those who control and set the moral standards of society itself. Nietzsche’s second essay The Genealogy of Morals for the text see
**Broadmoor’s regulator is the Care Quality Commission
***Other recent historic sex offenders include Max Clifford (73), Stuart Hall (86), Chris Denning (75), Paul Gadd (aka Gary Glitter) (72), Dave Lee Travis (71) and Dr Malcolm Salmon (79). See also the research at the other end of the spectrum with indeterminate sentences for children
****The Hatton Garden Heist included two men well in their 70s. One, John Collins (75) got seven years and the other Brian Reader (77) got six years. So based on their sentence both will serve their sentence in prison under the precept release at 80 to secure care facilities. Therefore elderly people can commit distinctly serious crimes.


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