Caring About Older Prisoners
The older prisoner population in England and Wales is increasing as the criminal justice system prosecutes for crimes committed many years ago, and offenders grow old during long sentences. Indeed, they have been referred to in the media as ‘the forgotten section of the prison system’.
In our paper, we discuss our experiences of undertaking action research in prison to develop an assessment tool for staff to ascertain older prisoner health and social care needs.
We conducted an action learning group where prison officers, nurses and prisoners met monthly to talk about the health and social care needs of older prisoners and the way in which they were identified and managed. Particular challenges for older prisoners include issues with mobility, relationships, chronic disease, their emotional health and fears around discharge back to the community. Whilst these particular areas are important to acknowledge, the focus of this paper is the way in which action learning was used in this closed, disciplined environment, where structure and order are commonplace and reflection on practice is not.
The four themes that emerged from our data included staying focussed, seeking clarity, the value of space and the impact of group composition on activity and perspective. It is the prison context and culture that has a significant impact on the efficacy of action learning. We suggest that of primary importance in this work is being aware of the need for ‘safe space’ in which to reflect on practice where there is a group of people working together who hold different professional philosophies, ideas and perspectives on how prisoners should be cared for.
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