What should prisons do with older inmates

Demographic change occupies the judiciary: More and more delinquent seniors


In German courtrooms and prisons there are more and more defendants and prisoners aged 60 and over. Whether shorter trial days or age-appropriate cell reconstruction - the judiciary is facing new challenges.

The aging of society is increasingly preoccupying the judiciary - and not just in the form of a shortage of young people. Seniors are more likely to end up in the dock themselves nationwide. In Münster, for example, an 86-year-old woman is on trial because the dementia patient is said to have killed her husband with a wooden scrubber. In Rhineland-Palatinate, an 83-year-old is sentenced to imprisonment: he suffocated his wife with a plastic bag - after taking care of her for years and then running out of strength. In Düsseldorf, a 91-year-old is charged with allegedly overlooking and fatally injuring a pedestrian in his car while turning.

In the capital, Chief Public Prosecutor Ralph Knispel sees a clear development: "We now have significantly more defendants who are older than 60 years." This has to do with demographic development and people's longer lives. The judiciary has to adjust to this, says Knispel German press agency

This is accompanied by special requirements like these: "Some people are no longer able to get through entire days of the process." In the case of illnesses, negotiations are then only held by the hour, but more appointments would have to be made. In addition, it should be taken into account if a defendant at an advanced age is on trial as a first-time offender.

Separate prison sections for older inmates?

If older people are convicted, they go to jail like other offenders. According to the latest published figures, there were 142 convicted criminals aged 60 and over in the capital's prisons alone as of the cut-off date on April 25, 2018. Nine of them were older than 75. The oldest prisoner is currently born in 1933.

The Association of Prison Staff in Germany assumes that the number of older prisoners will continue to increase across Germany. A geriatric, i.e. elderly-friendly, individual care is usually not feasible, says René Müller, chairman of the penal union German press agency. "And we still lack around 2,000 employees." His example: If a judicial employee leads 30 or 40 people to the prison yard for free time and everyone has to wait for minutes for an old man who can no longer walk properly, that could lead to aggression. Older prisoners are also at risk of being bullied by younger ones.

Müller therefore brings the following idea into play: Centers for geriatric care should be set up as departments in prisons nationwide. But not in all, but in four according to geographical location for all of Germany - north, south, east and west. Cooperation between federal states could then regulate the concentration of trained staff there and the sharing of the costs for age-appropriate renovations.

Berlin: Four percent of the prisoners are over 60 years

In Berlin, the judicial administration reports on request that the number of prisoners has decreased in recent years, but the proportion of older prisoners is increasing. There are currently almost 4,000 prisoners in the capital's prisons. The statistics show that up to 1997 older prisoners, i.e. those aged 60 and over, made up one percent of the prisoners. By 2018 the proportion rose to four percent.

From the judicial administration of Senator Dirk Behrendt (Greens) it is said that they have adjusted to the special clientele. In the Tegel prison, older people could take part in special sports programs. In Moabit, thinking and logistics games with extra-large symbols for memory training are on loan. A total of 21 cells in Berlin are barrier-free. In addition, older people are open to yoga, art and music groups in the institutions. And the Humanist Association advise on "age-specific issues", for example on care services after release from prison.

But nobody wants the elderly to die in prison. Attempts are being made to pardon such detainees or to release them prematurely, says a spokesman for the judiciary. Accommodation in a nursing home is also conceivable.

dpa / mgö / LTO editorial team