There are more people incarcerated in the United Kingdom than any country in Europe. And the largest proportion of those prisoners are elderly, creating a growing burden on the UK prison system.
At Latitude News, we want to bring your attention to thoughtful and though-provoking radio from around the world. So this BBC Radio 4 documentary by Rex Bloomstein caught our ear this week. The filmmaker turned radio producer has been documenting UK prisons since 1980, and for this doc he turns the mic on elderly male prisoners. Old prisoners are susceptible to abuse by other prisoners, and providing adequate health care comes at a huge cost to prisons.
Sentences across the pond have become harsher and longer, leaving many inmates behind bars into their golden years. More than 40% of elderly inmates are sex offenders, many of whom were convicted of crimes they committed decades earlier based on DNA analysis. Because prisoners tend to age faster than the general population, “elderly” in the the UK prison system is defined as above 50 years old.
The power of this story is not in statistics, but voices. In a ward for terminally ill patients who are likely to die in prison, Tommy (age 74, serving a life-sentence) says he’s waiting for the wind to blow him someplace.
“Where will the wind blow you?” Bloomstein asks.
“God knows,” Tommy says. “To hell, I suppose.”
The U.S. houses more prisoners than any country, followed by China and Russia, respectively. Hard statistics on older prisoners are slippery, though, perhaps because states and federal agencies define elderly prisoners differently. The U.S. Census Bureau defines “elderly” as 65 and older, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care says 55 is the threshold for “elderly” inmates, and 27 states define elderly prisoners as 50, 55, 60, 65 or 70.
At 38 minutes, this documentary is a long but engaging listen. If you don’t have much time, I recommend tuning in at minutes 10:20 and 24:15 for interviews with Alan – one prison’s oldest inmate – and Tommy (mentioned above). But if you have the time, my advice is to wait until the kids are in bed, sit on the couch, turn on the “radio,” and prepare to be moved. This documentary is only available for six days.