Aging prison population gets support from yoga and meditation

The Prison Phoenix Trust yoga class inside HMP Winchester.

The Prison Phoenix Trust is helping prisons to support the health and wellbeing of older prisoners with yoga and meditation resources that can be used safely in cells by older bodies and those with health conditions or restricted mobility.

The charity, which has been supporting yoga and meditation in prisons since 1988, has produced a set of nine printed handouts, each one illustrating a practice to help prisoners tackle issues such as back pain, low mood and poor sleep.

The handouts, produced in response to long lock-up times during the Covid pandemic, can be downloaded by prison staff and printed for in-cell activity packs. Their titles include “Chair Yoga for Everybody”, “Cell Bed Yoga”, “How to Meditate” and “Exploring your Breath”.

Prison Phoenix Trust director Selina Sasse said: “Many of the tools for wellbeing offered by the practices of yoga and meditation are highly accessible to people with older bodies, restricted mobility or long-term health conditions. Breath-based meditation can be done by anyone, anywhere. And there are many safe and simple yoga movements that can be done in a confined space, seated in a chair or on a bed.”

She said: “We know from the hundreds of letters we receive each year from older prisoners, how effective yoga and meditation can be for their sense of wellbeing and motivation to spend their time inside productively. ”

Older prisoners, who are the fastest growing group in prisons (1), have significantly poorer health than the younger population. According to a House of Commons Justice Committee report in 2020, up to 90 per cent of prisoners aged 50 or over have at least one moderate or severe health condition, and over 50 per cent have three or more. Among prisoners aged 60 or over, rates of major illness may be as high as 85 per cent. (2)

The report said many prisons, particularly those built in the Victorian era, found it difficult to provide equitable treatment for older prisoners with restricted mobility. The Ministry of Justice has committed to publishing an Older Offender Strategy in 2021.

The Prison Phoenix Trust is the UK and Ireland’s biggest and most experienced provider of expertise in yoga and meditation in prisons. In 2020 it supported yoga and meditation with classes or in-cell resources in 77% of prisons in the UK and Ireland. And it experienced an 88% increase in direct requests from prisoners for yoga resources and support.

Prison staff can email all [at] theppt.org.uk or call 01865 512521 for the password to download the handouts from the website

Notes:

1. The number of over-60s in custody in England and Wales has increased by 82% in the last decade. The number of people in prison in England and Wales aged 50 and over rose from 10,020 in 2013 to 13,764 in 2020 As a proportion the increase was from 12% to 17% of the prison population. (HMPPS Offender Equalities Annual Report 2019/20). In Scotland the proportion of prisoners aged 55 or older has more than doubled in ten years, from 3.3% to 7% in 2019-20. In the Republic of Ireland 9.6% of prisoners were aged over 55 and 13.8% aged 45-54 in 2019.

2. Of the 54% of older prisoners with a disability, 28% are estimated to have some form of physical disability, 15% anxiety and depression, and 11% both. Around 5% of prisoners aged 55 or over are estimated to be affected by dementia, while more than half of all elderly prisoners present with a mental illness. (Aging Prison Population, House of Commons Justice Committee, July 2020)

3. ‘Older prisoner’ is defined as 50 and over by most prisons as the health-related needs of prisoners are advanced by around 10 years, relative to people in the general population. “There is research evidence showing that health and care needs of prisoners aged 50–59 are very similar to those in their 60s. The accelerated ageing process may be caused by both lifestyle choices and social deprivation affecting a prisoner prior to custody, and by the effects of incarceration itself.” (Aging Prison Population, House of Commons Justice Committee, July 2020)

4. Establishments with more than 30% of prisoners aged 50 and over include: Wakefield; Bure; Stafford; Leyhill; Dartmoor; Ashfield; Frankland; Rye Hill; Full Sutton; Whatton; North Sea Camp; Littlehey; Dumfries. (Data from Prison inspection reports).