Health and Wellbeing Needs of Older Male Prisoners

Main Article Content

Sarah Lawrence
Paula Devine


Introduction: Older men aged 50 years and over are the fastest-growing cohort in the prisons of the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). This reflects wider demographic change, such as increased life expectancy, as well as harsher sentencing policies, and an increased eagerness of courts to pursue historical offenses particularly relating to sexual crimes. Research has shown that older men in prison often experience poorer physical health than younger prisoners and those with similar age in the general public. However, to date, no such study has explored the health-related needs of older men held in Northern Ireland prisons. The aim of this research was to explore the health and wellbeing needs of older men held in custody in Northern
Method: A questionnaire was completed by 83 men aged 50 years or over, who were in prison in Northern Ireland in 2016. Comparisons were made with similar community-based surveys.
Results: The data showed that on many indicators, older prisoners experience worse health than their peers living in the community.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that there is a need for appropriate healthcare planning for older men in prison which recognizes how their health may differ from other age cohorts within prison, as well as from those living outside a custodial establishment.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Lawrence, S., & Devine, P. (2022). Health and Wellbeing Needs of Older Male Prisoners. International Journal of Mens Social and Community Health, 5(SP1), e66-e82.
Men’s Health Across the Lifespan
Author Biographies

Sarah Lawrence, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Paula Devine, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland


1 Wahidin A. Time and the prison experience. Social Res Online. 2006;11(1):104–13.
2 O’Hara K, Forsyth K, Senior J, et al. Social services will not touch us with a barge pole: Social care provision for older prisoners. J Forens Psychiatry Psychol. 2015;26(2):37–41.
3 Fazel S, Hope T, O’Donnell I, et al. Health of elderly male prisoners: Worse than the general population, worse than younger prisoners. Age Ageing. 2001;30(5):403–7.
4 Kakouliss A, Le Mesurier N, Kingston P. The mental health of older prisoners. Int Psychogeriatr. 2010;22(5):693–701.
5 Crawley E, Sparks R. Older men in prison: Survival coping and identity. In: Liebling A, Maruna S, editors. The effects of imprisonment. Oxon: Routledge; 2006. p. 343–65.
6 Alvey J. Ageing prisoners in Ireland: Issues for probation and social work [Internet]. Irish Probat J. 2013;10(1):203–15 [cited 2022 May]. Available from:$File/IPJ2013pages203to215Abstract.pdf
7 Ferguson C, Coyle C. Health needs assessment of prisoners in Northern Ireland 2013/14. Belfast: Public Health Agency; 2014.
8 The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority [RQIA]. Review of services for vulnerable persons detained in Northern Ireland prisons [Internet]. Belfast: RQIA; 2021 [cited 2022 May]. Available from
9 Lawrence S. Ageing in Northern Ireland prisons [Internet]. Belfast: ARK; 2021 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from
10 Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research. World prison brief data [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 May]. Available from:
11 Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency [NISRA]. 2019 Mid year population estimates for Northern Ireland [Internet]. Belfast: NISRA; 2020 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from:
12 Devine P. Early E. Men’s health in numbers: Trends on the Island of Ireland [Internet]. Dublin: Men’s Health Forum in Ireland; 2020 [cited 2022 May]. Available from:
13 Office for National Statistics [ONS]. National life tables – Life expectancy in the UK: 2017 to 2019 [Internet]. London: ONS, 2020 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from
14 Arber S, Davidson K, Ginn J. Changing approaches to gender and later life. In: Arber A, Davidson K, Ginn J, editors. Gender and ageing: Changing roles and relationships. Maidenhead: Open University Press; 2003. p. 1–14.
15 Thompson EH, Langendoerfer KB. Older men’s blueprint for “being a man”. Men Masc. 2016;19(2):119–47.
16 Devine P, Montgomery L, Carter Anand J, et al. Social isolation and older men – Learning from research. Community Dev J. 2019;54(2):273–89.
17 O’Donnell S, Richardson N. Intersectional approaches to equity. In: Men’s health and well-being no country for middle-aged men? An intersectional approach to explore sources of psychological distress and patterns of seeking support among middle-aged men considered “at risk” of suicide in Ireland. Int J Mens Soc Community Health. 2020;3(2):e32–45.
18 Canetto SS. Suicide: Why are older men so vulnerable? Men Masc. 2017;20(1):49–70.
19 Herreen D, Rice S, Currier D, et al. Associations between conformity to masculine norms and depression: Age effects from a population study of Australian men. BMC Psychol. 2021;9(32):1-10.
20 Nowotny KM, Cepeda A, James-Hawkins L, et al. Growing old behind bars: Health profiles of the older male inmate population in the United States. J Aging Health. 2016;28(6):935–56.
21 Lindquist CH, Lindquist CA. Health behind bars: Utilization and evaluation of medical care among jail inmates. J Community Health. 1999;24(4):285–303.
22 Ministry of Justice [MOJ]. Offender management statistics bulletin, England and Wales, quarterly October to December 2017 [Internet]. London: MOJ, 2018 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from:
23 Caverley S. Older mentally ill inmates: A descriptive study. J Correct Health Care. 2006;12:262–8.
24 Kingston P, Le Mesurier N, Yortson G, et al. Psychiatric morbidity in older prisoners: Unrecognized and undertreated. Int Psychogeriatr. 2011:23(8):1354–60.
25 Fazel S, Hope T, O’Donnell I, et al. Unmet treatment needs of older prisoners: A primary care survey. Age Ageing. 2004;33(4):396–8.
26 Hayes AJ, Burns A, Turnbull P, et al. Social and custodial needs of older adults in prison. Age Ageing. 2013;42(5):589.
27 Maschi T, Viola D, Sun F. The high cost of the international aging prisoner crisis: Well-being as the common denominator for action. Gerontologist. 2012;53(4):543–54.
28 Gaston S. Vulnerable prisoners: Dementia and the impact on prisoners, staff and the correctional setting. Collegian. 2018;25(2):241–6.
29 Forsyth K, Heathcote L, Senior J, et al. Dementia and mild cognitive impairment in prisoners aged over 50 years in England and Wales: A mixed-methods study. Health Serv Deliv Res. 2020;8(27):1–116.
30 Viggiani DN. Unhealthy prisons: Exploring structural determinants of prison health (English). Social Health Illn. 2007;29(1):115–35.
31 Woodall J, Dixey R, South J. Control and choice in English prisons: Developing health-promoting prisons. Health Promot Int. 2013;29(3):474-82.
32 Ross M. Health and health promotion in prisons. London: Routledge; 2013.
33 Smith C. Healthy prisons: A contradiction in terms? Howard J Crim Just. 2000;39:339–53.
34 Baybutt M, Chemlal K. Health-promoting prisons: Theory to practice. Glob Health Promot. 2016;23(1_suppl):66–74.
35 Woodall J, Freeman C. Promoting health and well-being in prisons: An analysis of one year’s prison inspection reports, Crit Public Health. 2020;30(5):555–66.
36 Loeb S, Steffensmeier D. Older male prisoners: Health status, self-efficacy beliefs, and health-promoting behaviours. J Correct Health Care. 2006;12:269–78.
37 Loeb S, Steffensmeier D. Older inmates’ pursuit of good health. Res Gerontol Nurs. 2011;4(3):185–96.
38 Maschi T, Morgen K, Zgoba K, et al. Age, cumulative trauma and stressful life events, and post-traumatic stress symptoms among older adults in prison: Do subjective impressions matter? Gerontologist. 2011;51(5):675–86.
39 Pageau F, Cornaz CD, Gothuey I, et al. Prison unhealthy lifestyle and poor mental health of older persons – A qualitative study. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:690291.
40 Baumer H, Meek R. Sporting masculinities in prison. In: Maycock M, Hunt K, editors. New perspectives on prison masculinities. London: Palgrave Macmillan; 2018. p. 197–221.
41 Meek R. A sporting chance: An independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons [Internet]. London: Ministry of Justice; 2018 [cited 2022 May]. Available from:
42 Tennant R, Hiller L, Fishwick R, et al. The Warwick-Edinburgh mental well-being scale (WEMWBS): Development and UK validation. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2007;5(1):63.
43 Thompson EH, Pleck JH. The structure of male role norm. Am Behav Sci. 1986;29(5):531–45.
44 Aday RH. Golden years behind bars special programs and facilities for elderly inmates. Fed Probat. 1994;58(2):47–54.
45 Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction Survey (SPCR) [Internet]. London: Ministry of Justice; 2014 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from:
46 Omolade S. The needs and characteristics of older prisoners [Internet]. London: Ministry of Justice; 2014 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from:
47 Health Survey Northern Ireland. Belfast: Department of Health. [cited 2021 Aug 30].
48 Heard C. Locked in and locked down – Prison life in a pandemic. Evidence from ten countries [Internet]. London: Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research; 2021 [cited 2022 May]. Available from:
48 Padfield N, Maruna S. The revolving door at the prison gate: Exploring the dramatic increase in recalls to prison. Criminol Crim Justice. 2006;6(3):329–52.
49 Weaver B, Tata C, Munro M, et al. Failure of recall to prison: Early release, front-door and back-door sentencing and the revolving prison door in Scotland. Eur J Prob. 2012;4:85–98.
50 McElrath K. Drug use and drug markets in the context of political conflict: The case of Northern Ireland. Addict Res Theory. 2004;12(6):577–90
51 McCrystal P, Percy A, Higgins K. Exclusion and marginalisation in adolescence: The experience of school exclusion on drug use and antisocial behaviour. J Youth Stud. 2007;10(1):35–54.
52 Department of Justice Northern Ireland [DOJNI]. The Northern Ireland prison population 2017/2018: Research and statistical bulletin 26/2018 [Internet]. Belfast: Department of Justice; 2018[cited 2022 May]. Available from:
53 Ievins A, Crewe B. “Nobody’s better than you, nobody’s worse than you”: Moral community among prisoners convicted of sexual offences. Punishm Soc. 2015;17(4):482–501.
54 Grundy E, Holt G. The socioeconomic status of older adults: How should we measure it in studies of health inequalities? J Epidemiol Community Health. 2001;55:895–904.
55 Scottish Prison Service. 14th Survey bulletin – Older prisoners in custody 2013 [Internet]. Edinburgh: Scottish Prison Service; 2014 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from:
56 Wright KN. A study of individual, environmental, and interactive effects in explaining adjustment to prison. Justice Q. 1991;8(2):217–242.
57 Criminal Justice Inspectorate. Report on an unannounced inspection of Maghaberry Prison 11–22 May 2015 [Internet]. Belfast: Department of Justice; 2015 [cited 2022 May]. Available from
58 Trotter C, Baidawi S. Older prisoners: Challenges for inmates and prison management. Aust N Z J Criminol. 2014;48(2):200–18.
59 McNamara C, McNamara P. Placing the promotion of health and well-being on the Irish prison agenda – The complexity of health promotion in Irish prisons. Irish J Appl Soc Stud. 2014;4(1):48–59.
60 Lalor T. Ethnic identifiers in Irish prisons: Context and recommended practice for improving data collection on travellers and minority ethnic groups in Irish prisons [Internet]. Newbridge: Travellers in Prison initiative; 2017 [cited 2022 May]. Available from
61 Martynowicz A. Not so multicultural prison: Polish prisoners in a transitional prison system. Criminol Crim Justice. 2016;16(3):337–49.
62 Gavin P. “Prison is the worst place a traveller could be”: The experiences of Irish travellers in prison in England and Wales [Internet]. Irish Prob J. 2019;16:135–52. Available from:
63 Garrihy J, Watters A. Emotions and agency in prison research. Methodol Innov. 2020;13(2):1-14.
64 Earle R, Phillips C. Prison ethnography at the threshold of race, reflexivity and difference. In: Drake, Deborah H, Earle R, Sloan J, editors. The Palgrave handbook of prison ethnography. Palgrave studies in prisons and penology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; 2015. p. 230–51.
65 Williams J. Social care and older prisoners. Br J Soc Work. 2013;13(5):471–91.
66 House of Commons. Health and social care committee. Prison health: Twelve report of session 2017–19 [Internet]. London: House of Commons; 2018 [cited 2021 Aug 30]. Available from: