A dedicated case manager for the fast growing cohort of older prisoners in the Alexander Maconochie Centre could better manage those detainees' needs in an environment largely designed for younger people, new research suggests.
The newly published paper found the number of older prisoners in the ACT had grown by 239 per cent between 2009 and 2019, while nationally the number grew 82 per cent in the same period.
One explanation for the growth in older prisoners has been the number of offenders identified during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Dr Caroline Doyle, a researcher at the University of New South Wales' business school in Canberra, said it was not certain why there had been an increase in older prisoners.
Dr Doyle, who co-wrote the paper with the Australian National University's Professor Lorana Bartels and Isabella Jackson, said a specialised case manager could identify the complex needs of older prisoners from the point they were sentenced.
Older prisoners were more likely to have cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while they were also more prone to physical ailments than the wider prison population, the researchers noted.
"The lifestyle differences across these groups have the potential to be substantial. For example, a repeat offender who is incarcerated at the age of 60 may have rarely had stable accommodation, proper healthcare, or a nutritious diet for the majority of their life," the paper, published in Current Issues in Criminal Justice, said.
A prison environment could also undermine older prisoners' health needs and make physical ailments worse, while research has also shown dementia can go undetected in the prisons where regular routine can mask cognitive decline.
Dr Doyle, who is also the president of Prisoners Aid ACT, said there was often limited public support for older detainees imprisoned for serious crimes, but they still needed to be treated with dignity.
She said she asks her students to imagine their grandparents were imprisoned.
"Imagine ... they can't get in and out of bed because they're in a bunk bed, and they can't walk around the prison because there's steps, and they can't get up and down because there's no one assisting them," she said.
The paper said the regimen of daily prison living could place significant strain an ageing body.
"For example, activities ... such as standing up for muster counts, walking up and down stairs and to medical appointments, going to the bathroom and moving in and out of bed (especially bunkbeds) can be challenging," the paper said.
"There are limited physical activity options for older prisoners, with exercise ovals being inaccessible and exercise equipment only for able-bodied prisoners. The long lock-in times also create a sedentary lifestyle and lack of stimuli which impacts on the physical and mental health of older prisoners."
Dr Doyle said ACT Corrective Services were doing what they could given the resources and funding available to them.
"Everyone is trying to do the best they can within the context, within the resourcing context, within the funding context, within COVID-19," she said.