Imprisoned Elders: Patients or Prisoners?

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


In common with many other Western countries (e.g. Australia, Canada, England and Wales, but most visibly and notoriously the United States), Belgium is experiencing an increase in the number of older adults behind bars. In Belgium, only two specialist units for older, disabled and or ill prisoners have been introduced, but their capacity is very limited. As a result, a majority of older prisoners are confined in common prisons, which poses significant issues for both prisoners as well as for the Belgian prison system. Moreover, whilst prisoners are already a marginalized group whose health problems and care needs exceed those of the general population, recent international research highlights that elderly prisoners face specific physical and mental health needs (Carlisle, 2006; Crawley & Sparks, 2005; Yorston & Taylor, 2006). As prisons traditionally housed mainly young adult males, this could not only deprive them of their right to proper treatment and care, but can also lead to possible maltreatment and/or stigmatisation. These older imprisoned adults are plagued with the prospect of spending the late(r) stages of their lives as prisoners, an identity spoiled by degradation and dishonour (Welch, 2005: 74). To mitigate harmful consequences, such as assaults to the 'self', Welch (2005: 74) advances towards a depiction of elderly prisoners as 'patients' as such an identity might bring them dignity and honour. Therefore, it will be interesting to explore how these two identities relate to each other and how they are being reflected within prison life. Despite political recognition in Belgium of this phenomenon and the specific challenges it raises, little empirical research has been undertaken on elderly prisoners in Belgian prisons.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event4th Global Conference 'The Patient' - Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 18 Mar 201420 Mar 2014


Conference4th Global Conference 'The Patient'
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic


  • elderly prisoners
  • prison health care
  • ageing
  • imprisonment
  • identity
  • elderly patients


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