Large number of elderly prisoners at HMP Littlehey leads IMB to call for a new strategy for older offenders

At HMP Littlehey, a male sex offender training prison in Cambridgeshire, 42% of prisoners are over 50 years old. Although Littlehey has a very high number of deaths in custody (10 in the past year, the fourth highest in the country) these were all from natural causes, reflecting the older prisoner population. Meeting the needs of this changing demographic places additional pressures on all aspects of the prison regime, particularly health and care.


The monitoring board found that overall the prison has achieved appropriate standards in treating its prisoners with fairness and dignity and a relatively safe environment for both prisoners and staff. However, the IMB is now pressing Ministers to adopt a new national strategy for older offenders.


The prison is working well with local hospitals, hospices and Cambridgeshire County Council to provide decent and dignified health and care. Over the past year there were, on average, 214 health and care appointments within the prison every day and 162 ambulance and health care professional responses to the prison over the course of the year. However, the IMB is concerned that the prison’s own End of Life Suite, completed in 2013, remained unused reportedly due to lack of funding.


Shortfalls in staffing at Littlehey have often been exacerbated by the need to escort elderly prisoners to hospital and provide temporary close personal supervision. This reduces the numbers of staff available for day-to-day duties and has resulted at times in a reduction in out-of-cell time for other prisoners, especially at weekends. The Board anticipates that this situation should improve as staffing levels improve.


A major task of the Prison System is the effective rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners in the hope that re-offending levels are reduced.  However, many of Littlehey’s  prisoners are not able to be transferred to an accredited Resettlement Prison prior to the end of their sentences, and may have to be released directly from there. The Board is, therefore, concerned that Littlehey has not been established with sufficient facilities to address the full resettlement needs of its population.


IMB Chair, Harry Chandler, said: “Littlehey is doing a good job in developing its own arrangements for managing its changing demographic, but there needs to be a national strategy for older offenders to ensure consistency. Our role is to ensure that prisoners are treated fairly and with humanity, regardless of their offences. It is therefore important that ageing and unwell people in prison are able to maintain their dignity when they may not have much time left.”

  • IMB Littlehey annual report