Professor Helen Codd, Professor of Law & Social Justice at the University of Central Lancashire, UK, has an extensive record of research and publications in relation to criminal justice and penal/social policy, and in the early 1990’s was one of the first UK researchers to explore the intersections of feminism, ageism and criminology in relation to older prisoners and their partners. She is the author of ‘In the Shadow of Prison: Families, Imprisonment and Criminal Justice’ (2008) and, with David Scott, ‘Controversial Issues in Prisons’ (2010). She has contributed many invited chapters to edited collections, has an extensive record of peer-reviewed published articles, and has given invited keynote presentations in many jurisdictions, most recently in the US, India, Bangladesh and Uganda. She has extensive experience of involvement with NGOs and policy-making organisations, and her research was cited with approval in a ground-breaking judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in a groundbreaking case relating to the rights of prisoners and their partners. Her current research interests include older prisoners; prisoners’ families and kin, and human rights.
Ageing in the Shadow of the Prison: Building Inclusive Communities for Older Prisoners’ Families and Friends
This paper, based on the author’s ongoing criminological and socio-legal research in the UK, will draw on interdisciplinary perspectives in order to explore the potential for building prisons and prison communities which are inclusive not just in relation to ageing prisoners but also in relation to ageing family members and other visitors. Questions of age, ageism, inequalities and well-being are under-researched, as research which focuses on older prisoners has tended to focus on prisoners with little awareness of their family members, and conversely research on the impacts of imprisonment on prisoners’ family, kin and friends has usually focused on young people.
Researchers, policy-makers and practitioners in many countries have explored many of the impacts, consequences and challenges of increasing numbers of prisoners aged over fifty, who are characterised as ‘older’ prisoners within a system primarily populated by young people. In jurisdictions such as the US and the UK, which have embraced policy shifts towards the ‘mass imprisonment epidemic’, increased numbers of prisoners, combined with longer sentence lengths, have coincided with greater legal awareness and recognition of harms including historic sexual abuse and exploitation, leading to growing numbers of ‘older’ people, primarily men, experiencing imprisonment for the first time. The’re is now a substantial and expanding multi- and interdisciplinary body of research which documents, explores and analyses the experiences and needs of many of these ‘older’ prisoners, along with specific initiatives and developments in prison settings. There is also increasing recognition of the diversity of ‘older’ prisoners, research exploring the intersections of ageing in prison with questions of gender, ethnicity, ‘race’, sexual orientation and social class.
Much less attention has been paid, however, to the broader social and familial context of the needs and experiences of those ‘older’ people who interact with prisons and prisoners due to family, kin and friendship relationships. ‘Older’ prisoners themselves may, for example, maintain links with ‘older’ partners, siblings or friends. In addition, even if a prisoner is younger, as in the case of young offenders and juveniles, their visitors and outside contacts may well be older, and grandparents often find themselves caring for the children of prisoners, especially for the children of imprisoned mothers.
There is no shortage of research which has documented the many problems, disadvantages and difficulties faced by prisoners’ family and friends, and these difficulties can all by exacerbated by the challenges of ageing within and in relation to the prison, which perpetuates ageism, exclusion and inequality. As highlighted in emergent research, older prisoners’ families, kin and friends experience prison as ageist, unhealthy and non-age-friendly environments, and inequalities of access and contact based on health and disability mean that older prisoners and their families face specific challenges in relation to continuing these relationships throughout the sentence and afterwards,
The paper will consider whether it is possible or desirable to create inclusive prison settings for prisoners and their family members, reflecting on the value or otherwise of abolitionist approaches, and identify potential areas for the development of future policies and practices.