ONE in ten prisoners at Saughton is now classed as elderly – more than double the national average, a new report reveals.
Inspectors found 75 of the 799 current inmates are aged 60 or over, with numbers boosted by those convicted of historical sexual abuse cases.
Prisons are so ill-equipped nationally, elderly and infirm convicts are relying on fellow prisoners and guards to help them get dressed.
“We’re in danger of neglecting this part of the population because they don’t cause trouble,” said HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and report author David Strang.
“What I’m arguing for is they should be treated with common decency and dignity.”
The oldest prisoner in Saughton is 84, while the Stenhouse Road site was found to be one of three prisons in Scotland to have the highest numbers of elderly inmates. Stories told to inspectors around the country included an inmate whose wheelchair was too wide for his cell door and a prisoner in his 70s sleeping on the top bunk.
“The number of older prisoners in Scotland has risen significantly in recent years and will continue to do so,” said Mr Strang.
“This report highlights the challenges of responding to the increasingly complex health and social care needs of older people in prison and emphasises their distinct needs for suitable accommodation, social contact and activities.
“Too many older people in our prisons are not having their needs met in a satisfactory way.”
Mr Strang gave one such “overzealous” example of a prisoner coming around from surgery to find he was handcuffed to the bed.
“During our research, we heard positive accounts of how some older prisoners felt well looked after by prison officers and staff who demonstrated kindness and compassion,” he added.
“Older prisoners told us that they were not able to take part in activities because of their difficulty in walking distances.
“Many expressed their fears of growing old in prison and the possibility of dying alone.
“There is a clear need for such basics of life as suitable activities and social contact.
“I hope that this report will lead to effective change in the treatment of older prisoners in Scotland.”
Findings included the need for a joint prison service and government strategy, suitable accommodation, staff training and a key role for the NHS and prisoners’ families.
Tom Fox of the Scottish Prison Service said: “We have seen a significant rise of more elderly prisoners in the system over the last decade or so.
“A lot of that, but not all, is accounted for by people convicted of historical offences.”
Mr Fox said even modern prisons like Saughton were not designed to house such large numbers of elderly.
He said prisons would look into the best way to cater for elderly inmates, with most telling the inspector they prefer to stay in general circulation.