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Analysis: Ageing population creates a crisis for prison service

The NI Prison Service face the challenges of an increasingly ageing prison population.

THE complex nature of Maghaberry prison, a jail designed to hold inmates in maximum security, makes it a facility ill-equipped to cope with the increasingly complex medical needs of an ageing prison population.

Of the current 70 prisoners aged over 60, the oldest in his early 80s. Many are life sentence inmates either reaching the end of their jail term or prisoners who have been returned to jail for breaching the terms of their release.

Others are sex offenders, convicted of crimes committed many years ago. Greater awareness and publicity has encouraged victims to come forward who previously felt unable to.

Currently on remand in Maghaberry is former football coach James McCafferty (70) charged in connection with child sex abuse allegations.

Two republican prisoners, Sean O'Neill (76) and Joseph Lynch (73) have also served lengthy periods on remand in the Co Antrim jail.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for Northern Ireland warned inmate care had been "batted" between the prison and health authorities.

Younger prisoners tasked with voluntarily caring for the needs of older inmates.

Maghaberry is a prison that has received numerous damning inspection reports with staff shortages, a resistance to modernisation and a lack of health care and education provision.

Additional challenges that come with an increasingly ageing population, compounded by restrictive diet, exercise, health care and mental health provision all need to be addressed.

For the Northern Ireland Prison Service, much of this is not a problem of their making as they have no say in what age prisoners the courts place in detention.

But it does present challenges for the future on how - in some cases dangerous individuals convicted of brutal crimes - are detained in their later years and the expense that goes with that.

A secure medical facility to hold such prisoners may be the answer, but in these times of austerity and public service cut backs it may be some time before anything like that happens.

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