ACT News


Old prisoners on the double

Australia's prison population is rapidly ageing, with the nation's jails now holding more than twice the number of old-age inmates than nine years ago.

Canberra's only jail had no prisoners aged 60 or over in 2005 and none in its NSW-based population, but now has half a dozen, half of whom are 65 or over.

This follows an international trend that is causing difficulties for prison administrators around the world as they struggle to accommodate geriatric inmates.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2005 Australia's 65 and over prison population numbered just 312 but in 2013 it had more than doubled to 629.

The data does not record the age of people over 65, but the Australian Institute of Criminology has found that old age comes more quickly to prisoners than the rest of the population. It said inmates experience an apparent 10-year differential between their health and that of the general population.

"The acceleration of the ageing process among prisoners is generally attributed to a combination of the lifestyle of offenders prior to entering prison including poor nutrition, substance misuse and a lack of medical care, and the understanding that prison environments may escalate age-related illnesses and conditions,'' it found in a report on prisons.


The institute warned in 2011 that prisons in the US, Britain and New Zealand were experiencing challenges due to ageing prison populations that would continue in the future.

That prediction has certainly come true for Britain, where last year people over 60 were the fastest-growing age group in custody in English and Welsh jails.

The growth has fuelled speculation that trials of historic sex abuse offences and cold cases were propelling the population, with old-age offenders being jailed for crimes committed when they were younger.

Prisoners Aid ACT president Brian Turner said he believed older inmates would likely have complex health problems.

However, Victims of Crime Assistance League ACT service co-ordinator Marie-Noelle Cure said justice must be served even if it was very late. "It does not matter how old they are. If they have committed heinous crimes that have shattered the lives of others, then they should be in jail,'' she said. "If it catches up to them later in life, so be it.''

Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury said he was aware of the challenges but believed the ACT system could cope. 

"While an ageing detainee population is an issue that is increasingly affecting corrections jurisdictions both in Australia and elsewhere, it has not yet emerged as a problem in the ACT,'' he said.

"The small number of older detainees in the Alexander Maconochie Centre are being well managed as a result of the very good health care, both primary and secondary, that is available. The centre has been designed to cater for detainees with a range of abilities. Subject to appropriate supervision and approval, detainees are able to move around the facility quite easily."