E LEARNING by Mr E learning Honess

A (Very) Quick Blog about E-Learning.
This week I did my University’s E-Learning package on GDPR & Data Protection. Now I appreciate that this is not the most thrilling topic in the world, however recently I had my Research Ethics Forms and my request to access a Police Force to conduct research bounced (quite rightly) because of insufficient detail of data protection issues. These forms and my access request are vital as without them I will be unable to conduct the data collection stages for my PhD, i.e. actually do the research! As a result, I was very personally motivated to conduct this training and to do it properly, despite the fact it was a one-off, standalone e-learning course (what we call in the biz programmed instruction).
I did the training and you know what…? I actually learned the material contained within!
If I had not had those data protection issues dangling over me would I have seen the relevance of it? Probably not!
Would I have undertaken the e-learning seriously? Probably not!
Would I have learned anything about a particularly dry subject? Probably not!
Knowing the relevance of the training to me personally was key for me to successfully complete a programmed instruction e-learning course…
So why is this personal anecdote the basis of a CCCU Policing blog?
Those that have read my work will know that I have a personal, professional and academic interest in police training and that I conducted research into e-learning by NCALT a couple of years ago. During that research I found that e-learning was now the major form of training delivery in the police with 98% of officers stating they had completed courses in the previous 3 years. But I also found that 82% of officers stated that it did not meet their learning needs, and that over 70% stated that necessity and usefulness were key motivation (and de-motivating) factors when undertaking such courses. Plus, this was echoed when I spoke to frontline officers about why this was the case*.
In this case I had a clear reason to undertake the course. It was vitally necessary for my role as a researcher and PhD student. I had recently suffered a setback as a direct result of not knowing enough about the topic and so the issue of GDPR and data protection (as dull as subject as it is and delivered in a way I don’t really like) was at the forefront of my mind. The requirement to undertake the training was clear to me and not based on my line manager, research supervisor or someone higher up telling me I had to do it.
This has implications for police managers, especially those tasked with training. Officers need to know why they are undertaking the training. They need to have an appreciation of its importance and necessity for their day-to-day jobs, but they have to experience why it is important rather than just be told that it is. Because all the while they see it as a tick-box exercise to cover the organisation’s liability (a whole other discussion as to why I don’t think it does) and not an essential part of what they do, the e-learning will remain ineffective.
Rich Honess
*The whole research thesis can be read here: http://create.canterbury.ac.uk/14999/

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For my sins – I am talking PEQF again – #degreegate #duckandcover

The term ‘knowledge is power’ is a compelling statement in the context of policing. Knowledge impacts on everything, not just within the police and amongst officers of all ranks and roles, but also within every partnership they attempt to build when doing the complex job that they do and the complex issues they deal with. Partnerships with for example, other agencies, communities, victims and dare I say it the academic community.

I remember when I was working as a researcher in the MPS, not long into the start of some complex analysis exploring public confidence in London, a group of community officers and PCSOs asked us – ‘go on then, you tell us how to get our confidence up in this difficult community’. ‘Information’, I recall my colleague saying back to them, ‘information is one of the biggest drivers of confidence, your community want knowledge from you about what you are doing to address their problems’. Its true isn’t it? That knowledge coming from the police as an agent of social control can empower people, give context to people and help build trust between them and the police – it provides, for the police, a method to gain social capital and capacity in their working localities.

But and there is a but…. in order to ensure the police are dealing with the right problems, they need reciprocal knowledge exchange from those communities. They need intelligence and knowledge about what is going on. Effectively this relationship is cyclic for the police because if they don’t get this local knowledge they cannot plan actions and give the subsequent feedback required to gain the confidence that they need from their communities to do their job…. Confusing huh?

This memory came back to me after reading the most recent PEQF conversation on social media. After just two days of our CCPR conference and what do I miss? #Degreegate and more #degreegate… well actually this time it is timely and it is with no shame that I use the hook to write this blog, based on the paper I gave in Canterbury last week. Because, at the end of the day, this debate is predominantly, it seems to me, about knowledge.

I have a string of blogs in my head from the conference (which seemed to be a great success). I will slowly get to writing them all but given the continuing contention circulating about the PEQF I am putting some of my recent thoughts on this debate down on paper. It came to me as myself and Dr Nicky Miller, from the College of Policing, talked through the conference plans for our joint panel, that when we talk about ‘academic partnerships’ we nearly always assume the focus to be on research partnerships or partnerships based on how to deliver education with forces, particularly in relation to developing the police degree apprenticeship. What is rarely discussed is the need for a partnership between police officer students and their chosen universities when it comes to taught knowledge, the development of that knowledge and the way in which that knowledge is applied and used in the workplace. That is why I called my paper at the conference ‘learning cops, learning organisations and learning academics’. It is essentially a relationship of knowledge exchange which should be a three-way process between the academic world, the organisation and the student themselves. This is about knowledge, the perceived power and capital attached to differing types of knowledge and the power that knowledge gives individuals themselves within the workplace.

If I ask the question (and I have often) – ‘what does degrees for police officers on entry mean to you?’, the range of diverse assumptions and perceptions would go something like this.

  1. ‘Policing is changing – we need to encourage more critical thinking and different forms of knowledge around diverse issues to problem solve more effectively’
  2. ‘In times of austerity we need to make sure we are focusing resources in the places of need and deploying people to the most intense problems – that should be grounded in evidence’
  3. ‘Using education and encouraging reflective practice can help with the development of innovation and new ways of working and learning’
  4. ‘It is all about professional development and giving a qualification to make things more professional’
  5. ‘Off the shelf taught codified knowledge will lead to us being like robots, that is what they want – a bunch of clones’
  6. ‘It is all about managers being risk averse – the courses will encourage prescriptive working and toolkits which we will have to comply with’
  7. ‘The PEQF undermines our professional knowledge and discretion’

This last statement is key and essentially refers to the development of, what is perceived to be, a top down degree being delivered by ivory tower residents who have never ‘done’ policing and quite frankly don’t get it. It undermines the value of knowledge learnt on the job and quite frankly the type of knowledge that is held in esteem within the organisation. Cultural knowledge in policing is key, an officer’s length of service, what jobs they have done, what stories they can tell are all a core part of the ability to gain credibility in the police. This debate about the hierarchy of knowledge and the contribution that knowledge plays to the hierarchy of power and police identity in the police is central to this debate. Might I say, just for good measure, the concept of knowledge hierarchies features in the academic world too – both in terms of research methodologies, curriculum development and places of work. This statement from an academic colleague when I delivered the news of my exciting new role as an inside researcher in the Met Police went like this – ‘oh well you’ve crossed into the dark side – goodbye objectivity and research integrity’. So let’s face it we ivory tower residents are no saints either.

Anyway …… For the purpose of the conference last week I put together this table (with caveats) outlining the power of the three elements involved in this debate (see below).

blog

Perhaps the considerable impact organisational structures and processes have on this perceived hierarchy are for another blog but the way academic knowledge is interpreted by many officers is influenced by their perceptions of the degree level entry’s programme PURPOSE. Indeed, from my reading of the extensive #degreegate input many concerns relate very much to the purpose of this new degree requirement –  much of it relates to their own sense of professionalism which is grounded in their experience and learnt craft knowledge. Or moreover the perceived undermining of that knowledge. Actually if I am totally honest, having conducted my own (brief) research[1] on this with our own students and, through reading my colleagues’ Tom Cockcroft and Katja Hallenburg’s excellent work[2] on the experience of ‘in service degree’ officers, I can kind of see where these perceptions are coming from – because at times this is exactly what happens.

So is there another way? How can the academic community quite rightly recognise the knowledge held by officers as vital in the process of learning? And more importantly how can we actively publicise that this is what many of us want to achieve? Not to sit as the powerful knowledge holders providing information about what to do when faced with certain situations. Rather we want to integrate the knowledge we hold with the reality of police life and experience which is also vital knowledge. Learning works both ways – and just like when the police deal with the community this has to be a reciprocal relationship of knowledge exchange and co-production.

When it comes to the degree I work on, I cannot control how much the officers on our programme get to apply their learning. We believe in embedding learning in practice and trying new things but we as an institution cannot make that happen. I am not talking about conducting cost saving evaluations here I am simply referring to officers talking to a colleague about their further understanding of why community engagement is so important for the reciprocal exchange of knowledge, why it might be important to consider the role of the police when thinking about the rise in mental health demand, asking questions about the way the police and other agencies involved in social control deal with young people and issues of social exclusion, the way the police measure performance….maybe just saying ‘why are we doing that like that’ on occasion, based on their learning.

Actually policing is a naturally reflexive job – it is, as a well-known academic said back in the day, – a job where you essentially need to be a ‘street corner politician’. The need to apply different decisions based on individuals, contexts and localities is key to this. Not one taught method will work in every situation and to ensure this the knowledge of a local officer is invaluable and indeed to be learnt from. Similarly, academics need to understand the moving nature of policing and to constantly update their curriculums. The way we transfer knowledge into relevant and practical formats to make it current, relevant and effectively more usable is important and indeed challenging for some us.

The only way we can do this is by reflecting together on theory and what it means in the reality of the police world. I do believe there is a middle way in police education which celebrates the knowledge held by all officers regardless of rank. The power dynamics in operation in the police organisation itself (partly related to this hierarchy of knowledge) is not something we need to recreate in a different police educational context. Respect for knowledge – all different types of it – is vital. Police academic knowledge development is utterly dependant on the voices and reflections of officers, the data collated by officers, those dealt with by officers, the local knowledge officers hold about their area and force. Actually at the end of the day the data and theory we teach and love is generally dependant on the collection, analysis and translation of knowledge held by the organisation – this is forgotten sometimes.

There is a middle ground here for us all to learn – learn to do things differently, apply things differently and encourage work places to let their staff use the learning differently. But that blog is for another day!

 

[1] Available here https://bulletin.cepol.europa.eu/index.php/bulletin/article/view/294

[2] Available here https://academic.oup.com/policing/article/11/3/273/2965271

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Reflections on ASEBP Conference from me and Ian Hesketh

As we travel home from a superb few days in Philadelphia (where the weather is as unpredictable as my wardrobe) it is time to put pen to paper and relay some reflections about the American Society of Evidence Based Policing conference 2018 and the way in which these events continue to be received. Both Ian and I spoke at the conference at Temple University, Philadelphia.

The conference was attended by officers of various ranks and roles from across the US, academics, students and individuals from other agencies with an interest in policing. This blog outlines some of the highlights of the conference and reflects on how both the UK and USA police and policing academics are experiencing similar issues with the evidence (and we are applying a broad definition to evidence here) based policing debate.

Presentations addressed:

 Predictive policing

Body worn cameras

Deescalation in police and citizen encounters

Translating evidence for practitioners

Media and policing

Implicit bias

Police well-being

Violence reduction strategies

So what did we learn about US and Canadian policing?

First and foremost the problems that the Canadian and American policing family face are largely historical, social, geo-economic problems arising out of mental health, poverty and increased levels of citizen violence. Although in both these countries officers bear arms, this is largely inconsequential in contrast to the volume of demand versus the capacity to deal. As in the UK, vulnerability, complexity, efficient multi-agency partnerships and effective officer training all play a crucial role in the capability of officers to deal with these issues.

We heard of a number of both long term strategic approaches and reactive tactical work from both academics and practitioners. Many of these were built on collaborations between both; which was refreshing. These propose effective means to deal with these problems and are similar to approaches currently being trialled and evaluated in a number of UK forces. The practice of collaborating with academic institutions, as you would expect with EBP, was well voiced. As well as traditional crime issues, much was discussed about the need for research to explore wider social issues and to ask questions about the growing role of police as social welfare agents and what work is valued in policing – again similar discussions to that in the UK. Contrary to popular belief the sociology of policing featured heavily throughout the first morning and the need for learning from the past was a key component of these sessions. Very positive!

Professor of Criminology at John Jay College, David Kennedy, alluded to this in relation to a violence strategy. This coheres with the UK story and the challenges violence presents to the public and the officers attempting to deal with the increase. No short term fix will solve the intense social problems that play a role in the growing problem of violence in both countries, as well as the challenges of mobilising appropriate agencies.

Jerry Ratcliffe hosted the conference and delivered some amusing and inspiring talks about research in the US context. It was encouraging to hear his recognition of the need to utilise qualitative research methods to explore the why’s and context of some of the trials being discussed. Furthermore he emphasised that the mixed methods evaluation conducted in Philadelphia on predictive policing had deployed intense observations to ensure the research understood the wider context of simply just ‘doing patrol’. This picked up officer discretion and engagement with the community and formed a core part of the research strategy.

Body worn cameras threaded through many of the US presentations, and more interestingly there was a good deal of debate about the possibility of using them to explore community and police interactions. In a sense, to consider procedural justice and view events leading up to quick decisions made at the time. Often we do not understand the context of police decision making and this was an interesting inclusion to the conference themes.

Police welfare and well being also featured as a core thread during the two days. An interesting, yet small trial, described by Associate Professor Lois James, highlighted some promising results on sleep training for officers who has experienced symptoms of fatigue. The similarities here to UK police officers was evident and Ian’s paper outlining his own work on police well being was received well and with much interest from the US cops in the room.

All of this was held together by the wonderful Queen of American EBP Dr Renee Mitchell, whose passion and love for policing is apparent in her every word!! Hats off Renee for a fabulous conference.

 So who are the attenders?

One of the most inspiring features of the conference was seeing the amount of practitioners in the room doing small scale research projects, testing new innovations and challenging their own assumptions. They were conducting pre and post evaluations, interviews, small randomised control trials, ethnography or observations and systematic reviews. This was with the aim of helping them understand hugely complex and multi-faceted problems, together with the impact this was having on the officers. All these people wanted to do was the right thing, deploy resources in the right places where community relationships could be enhanced and use research to help them do this. They had proactively built relationships with academic institutions to facilitate the co-production of this process. In essence, they had done it without formal education in many cases, or previous knowledge of academic research. Much had been driven rightly, from their own craft knowledge and experience of the job. Police training in the US is even more disparate than the UK, with different states provide different types of training to their staff. For these 230 or so people in the room this world of making EBP ‘business as usual’ is even more fresh and new than it is for us in the UK.

So what are the similarities?

As well as the issues discussed at the conference relating to crime and social problems, a key theme related to the way this work is received by other officers in their own forces. We regularly heard familiar descriptions of officers feeling like they are being stabbed in the back by colleagues, considered as too academic and moving away from the importance of craft learning, as well as a general reluctance for forces to sometimes apply learning. These featured in the US states as well as they regularly do at home in the UK. The general problem of, ‘what counts as evidence and knowledge,’ is apparent on both sides of the pond and continues to relate to concepts of credibility and worth.

A future challenge may be to increase the engagement in respect of the world of social media. There was clearly a substantial number of officers who followed the event on line, however these seemed to be more voyeuristic than contributive. Officers pursuant of EBP methods can draw meaningful support from positive social media commentary and debate about their work. However, there seems a reluctance to embrace research, and a feeling many are watching in the wings rather than being a critical mass engaging in the virtual world. This is from people who may have a general distrust and uncertainty of research and academia. We would argue that most officers and academics who work in this area, whatever their chosen methodological approach or area of work, genuinely care about policing. This equally applies to those who are quick to critique innovation – of course they care passionately too. However, some commentary is often personal, hurtful, and outcomes such as withdrawal are seen. This is wholly unnecessary and quite preventable. Complaints about terminology, academic referencing or being accused of being too bound by certain methods is not supportive for those venturing into EBP for the first time – we are all learning all the time.

Whatever thoughts are about the concept of EBP and how it is defined, making derogatory, personal and unfounded comments to those involved in it is inappropriate. A great deal of effort goes into these events and they are attended by a lot of people who are passionate about improving a challenging public service in the best way they can.

We hugely thank Renee and her amazing team for a fascinating two days. It is about time we started supporting each other’s differences, respecting alternative standpoints and moving on from creating silos when all we all really want is to make a difference to cops and communities.

If anyone wants any further info on the event I would be very happy to share details of speakers and papers presented on the above subjects.

 

 

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Direct Entry Scheme: Tell us more about what might affect us! Emma Williams / Jennifer Norman (CCCU) and Dr Fran Boag-Munroe (PFEW)

Direct Entry Scheme: Tell us more about what might affect us!

 

The messages portrayed in this blog do not reflect the views of the writers – so do not shoot the messengers! The narrative presented here offers insight into officers’ own views on a significant area of police reform – that of Direct Entry into the Police Service.

The Canterbury Centre for Police Research was fortunate enough to have been approached by the Police Federation England and Wales (PFEW) to be involved in some analysis in relation to officers’ perceptions of the College of Policing’s recent initiatives. We were grateful to the PFEW for inviting us to engage in this work as the ethos of our centre is to capture practitioner voice and, amongst other issuers, their experiences of police reform.

The data that this blog is based on was generated from the 3626 qualitative responses derived from the PFEW’s Annual Pay and Morale Survey 2017, the only national survey of officers, designed and run by Dr Fran Boag-Munroe.

Context

Direct entry is a contentious issue which has been widely debated on social media over the last few months. Much of this conversation has been anecdotal and focused on a disconnection between the frontline and the College of Policing. Primarily this has focused on the lack of information coming visibly from the College about the work they are doing and the impact it might have on the frontline themselves. Officers’ perceptions about the lack of engagement from the College have been recognised more recently, particularly following a blog from a serving officer, @nathanconstable, and the subsequent thorough response to the blog from Rachel Tuffin, at the College of Policing.

The analysis from this survey offered us a chance to provide some evidence around these perceptions, based on reliable research that perhaps validates some of these concerns voiced by officers.

What did we find?

Quantitative findings from the PFEW Pay and Morale Survey 2017

  • 75% of survey respondents felt that Direct Entry at Chief Officer rank would have a negative impact upon policing
  • 77% felt that Direct Entry at Superintending rank would have a negative impact upon policing
  • 82% felt that Direct Entry at Inspector rank would have a negative impact upon policing

The findings from the quantitative survey data indicated that the majority of respondents felt, regardless of the point of direct entry, that the scheme would have a negative impact on policing. However there is more concern over the direct entry inspector level and this largely related to operational nature of this rank.

Practical experience

Part of this criticism related to a genuine concern raised from officers about the credibility of direct entry candidates to make operational decisions due to their lack of ‘on the ground’ experience and, in the current climate of perceived professionalism, this is important. Academically there is a wealth of literature on what influences individual officers’ sense of credibility and much of it concludes that operational experience and the development of the police craft is a key factor and makes policing unique as a result.

“You cannot learn policing from a book. It is inherently dangerous to allocate persons to senior positions without them learning their craft first”

These perceptions, notions of uniqueness and acknowledged complexities of what the police deal with intersected with officers’ thoughts about DE entrants coming in from the private sector – particular at inspector level. There was a perception that the skills required to be effective in areas such as risk assessment, in the context of growing numbers of vulnerable people and perceived dangers, can only be built through experience.

“You cannot beat experience, managing police is not like managing Tescos”

As we were analysing the data we began to realise that some these perceptions of ‘not enough time doing to job’ linked quite clearly into an element of resentment that serving officers had about supporting DE entrants in their role. Firstly there was the issue of trust, and officers being confident in DE officers’ operational decisions without having the craft knowledge they rank as ‘high value’.

What resulted from this was officers offering assistance to and support these DE officers which they felt was not recognised by supervisory staff. It was clear from the data that a sense of not being valued was relatively strong and these feelings were compounded by their frustrations abut limited internal opportunities for serving staff and blocked career progression.

“It’s like people like me who’ll be bailing them out when they can’t make a decision due to lack of experience and knowledge”

Therefore officers talked about providing resilience, bailing people out and their subsequent frustrations about not being recognised either pay or management wise.

The impact on them personally

There was no doubt from the analysis that morale and (more practically relevant) de-incentivising had occurred for some as a result of the support they had offered others and the lack of information about what this meant for regular officers in terms of their access to progression. Direct entry was described as a ‘kick in the teeth’ and as the opposite of The College wanting to professionalise officers as they ‘parachute people in’.

What this ultimately led to was a sensed of unfairness amongst respondents and a feeling that whilst they were being told to gain more qualifications to build on, what should be accredited, experience, these DE officers were being welcomed with potentially neither aside from experience in another sector.

The extent of these feelings should not be underestimated and are important to hear. The inferences arising from this quote were not uncommon in the data:

“There are plenty of officers with wasted skills and who are ready for promotion in forces. They are blocked by the culture of negative attitudes and poor people development in the force. HR people do not develop people and the PDR process does not recognise those that are ripe for development.  Introducing external candidates at middle management level further blocks opportunities and closes doors for promotion in the force”.

Whilst there was some recognition that at high level (superintendent) external officers could bring different skills in terms of management and leadership styles, at warranted rank level DE was seen as a risk and incredibly frustrating for these respondents.

The fact that these perceptions linked to other officers, beyond them as individuals, clearly highlights the sense of unjustness of this decision across the whole. This was not a sense of unfairness for the individual but for the collective. Considering the literature on organisational justice this has huge implications for the wider sense of identity officers have with the organisation and their willingness to buy in to and support priorities and change.

Current processes for progression

What was interesting in the analysis was how the frustrations extended to the systems in place for them to achieve promotion inside the force.

“Why don’t we look at what we already have first rather than employ people who know nothing / have no experience of policing?”

“Why not change the promotion process to one which attracts and promotes good leaders who care for their staff and the public not getting onto the next rung of the ladder”

The PDR process was seen as defunct and also the sense of this and the current promotion process being partly responsible for a perceived need to employ from the outside as the right people hadn’t been given the chance inside. This should be considered as critical learning from this research.

What does this all mean?

We feel there is some key learning from this research which extends beyond the DE scheme. We will be publishing another blog with more demographic data, additions from a recent Twitter poll and also some other important findings from the survey relating to officers views having actually worked with officers and whether their initial perceptions had changed.

However from this initial blog it is clear that the lack of engagement and limited information available on DE had resulted in a void being filled with fast spreading information about what it means for regular officers.

In every area of change communication is the most important factor. In policing information travels fast in policing particularly now through social media networks that offer officers and others a space to voice questions, frustrations and thoughts about different police issues. The College of Policing has, in ways, recognised the need to engage more with the front line but perhaps there is a lesson here about who they engage with about different issues as opposed to just getting a load of information out there to everyone. Tailored messages are evidently in need here about the effects some change or initiatives might have on certain officers and how their fears might be allayed. On a number of levels this is important given the findings here about lack of incentive, lack of recognition and lowering morale. We know from all the excellent work being conducted on officer wellbeing that such factors may well impact negatively on productivity.

Finally and for us, one of the most important issues, is that individual professionalism is being impacted on here. It is undermined by officers’ perceptions of DE and conflicts with what the College are selling to officers about the importance of their experience and the fact it deserves formal accreditation through academic acknowledgment – hence professionalism. We think this is likely worsened by the lack of information forthcoming from the College about what this scheme means in the wider context.

The messages presented here from an analysis of officers voices are important for development of communication / engagement and the imparting of knowledge about new schemes.

These people are the workforce. They are what makes policing work at a very difficult time and treating them properly is vital for a number of practical and personal well-being reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Defining ‘Elderly’ in the Prison Context – Kelvin Robbins

Huge thanks to Kelvin for adapting this really interesting blog for the site from his excellent assignment submission for his MA programme!

This blog, adapted from a November 2017 postgraduate student admission, explores the definition of elderly within a prison context, the issues surrounding the incarceration of elderly people, why these issues are increasing, and the current efforts to address the issues.
There is little consensus to what constitutes an elderly prisoner. The definition of “elderly” in prison research literature ranges from 50 to 65. This lack of clarity in defining ‘elderly’ is an issue. Whilst age provides a simple measure of chronological progress since birth, it is a poor measure of life stage and ability. Therefore, allocating resources on the basis of chronological age could give unnecessary benefit to some and disadvantage others, and it makes meaningful comparison difficult for researchers as well as for policy makers. Matters are further complicated in that there is some evidence physiological deterioration is more advanced in an inmate compared to a person based out in the community, and this is put forward as an argument that incarceration accelerates the ageing process. However, this can’t apply to an elderly person committed to prison for the first time. Overall, there is no clear chronological point a person becomes “elderly” in the criminal justice system. Perhaps it is unsurprising defining the elderly in a prison context was identified as a top priority in developing national US policy in 2012.
Reviewing the literature relating to the imprisonment of the elderly reveals a number of clear themes. Firstly, society predominantly associates criminal behaviour with youth. It is described as a young man’s game, with prisons designed around fit young men, not for those with deteriorating health and physical ability. Prisons are institutionally geared towards smooth running and self-maintenance. This lack of consideration, or “institutional thoughtlessness” results in elderly prisoners being invisible in policy.

Expecting elderly prisoners to follow the same rules as younger prisoners could even be described as discrimination. For example, withdrawing access to media has been found to be more impactive on the elderly. Elderly female prisoners, as a minority within a minority, suffer more from this institutional thoughtlessness. Elderly female prisoners are described as forgotten, but some go further in describing a “pattern of malign neglect” in programmes and policies.
Another key theme is dementia. Prison systems are unprepared to handle this condition, as are earlier stages of the criminal justice system. Research indicates dementia can be devastating if undiagnosed in a correctional setting, but there is a lack of data about its prevalence in prison. Evidence shows younger adult prisoners are more likely to have chronic illnesses and psychiatric illness, so elderly prison populations may be more likely to suffer dementia. Certainly, healthcare planning for elderly prisoners cannot be extrapolated from estimates based on elderly based out in the community.
A third theme is the cost of elderly prisoners, disproportionately higher for elderly prisoners compared to their younger inmates. Financial issues seem to feature more in American literature, as responsibility to provide healthcare for inmates moves from the individual to the state for incarcerated persons in the USA, but there is also increased financial burden associated with elderly inmates in the UK.
Elderly prison populations are rising. Prison populations globally have grown, and within this there is a sustained surge of elderly prisoners, who are the fastest growing subgroup of prisoners. However, there is no clear consensus as to why. Some academics argue it is simply reflective of the increasing proportion of the elderly in wider populations, but this is dismissed by others. A potential reason may be the increasing length of sentences, yet as long ago as 1984 41% of prisoners were over 55 at their first committal to prison, and other schools of thought consider sentence length as a marginal contributor to increasing elderly prison populations.
UK courts have become increasingly preoccupied with retribution and risk, and there may be a societal shift to incapacitation models of crime control rather than rehabilitative approaches. There is also a greater readiness to prosecute historic offences, particularly sexual offences. This rise in elderly prisoners has led to established criminological theory of criminal involvement declining with age being questioned and re-examined.
In response to the rise in elderly prisoners, there are calls for sentencing reform. The established rationales for imprisonment are stretched to breaking point with the elderly. Sentencing guidelines underestimate the impact of imprisonment upon the elderly, and evidence suggests they are much less likely to reoffend. A key call is for Alzheimer’s screening or functionality tests for prisoners, but prison environment based functionality assessments must be developed as existing community based ones cannot easily translate into prison settings.
Whilst there has been good work by non-governmental organisations responding to elderly prisoners, action by responsible authorities lacks consistency with only pockets of good practice. Most positive approaches identified are due to individual improvisations by prison staff. The Prison Ombudsman has called for a national elderly prisoner strategy in 2017, repeating the little heard concern of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2008.

To conclude, elderly prisoners are a global, cross-discipline issue. Research and concern spans legal, nursing, geriatric, mental health, sociological, and criminal justice literature. National level responses are beginning to emerge, but a clear consistent theme across all the research disciplines is that research is too sparse, and whilst pockets of good practice exist, national policy is inadequate, if it exists at all.

 

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