Older prisoners are the fastest-growing population in England and Wales, which is why Action for Prisoners Families (APF) decided to focus on the needs of their families in its most recent seminar.
The event raised a host of interesting questions. Families of older prisoners seem to be enveloped in a double layer of invisibility. Anecdotally, it seems that the older a prisoner is, the fewer visits they are likely to receive, making it difficult for agencies to know who the families are and how to support them.
Recoop, an agency that works with older prisoners, told APF that in one of their projects, only 15% of prisoners had had a visit from the family in the last year.
Dr. Anna Kotova from Oxford University shared her initial findings on the difficulties of maintaining long-term relationships with prisoners. She painted a picture of families desperately worried about the health of the prisoner.
One woman for example was worried about her husband who needed a hip replacement and another had become convinced that her husband had had a stroke.
She also spoke about families’ fears of their loved one dying in prison and the difficulties of breaking bad news, such as the death of relatives. One woman described how, on a normal visit, she had had to tell a prisoner about the deaths of his mother and father in quick succession.
A family member whose partner had been in prison for 28 years spoke movingly about the problems they are both facing on release, including difficulties of getting work. Unlock, an association for ex-offenders, outlined the particular financial difficulties faced by older prisoners’ families, including pensions and insurance.
Cancer charity Macmillan outlined their work in helping prisoners to die with dignity and with their families around them at HMP Frankland.
There have been big developments in supporting prisoners’ families over the last few years in the UK. Prisons and the community have made efforts to understand and accommodate family needs with an increase in parenting courses, family days and support for families in the community. But this work has tended to focus on families with children, and the needs of older prisoners’ families have been side-lined.
APF intends to focus on this important and neglected area and will be producing a briefing based on the seminar findings in the near future.
More information: http://www.prisonersfamilies.org.uk/