Azrini Wahidin on Older women in the criminal justice system – Issues and Challenges

18 Feb

On the 15th October  2010, I was invited to be a plenary speaker at 13th Annual Conference  for the Association  for Criminal  Justice  Research and Developmenton the topic  of Women  in the Criminal Justice System. The event brought together policy makers, practitioners and academics to address the issue of women who come into conflict with the law. Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe  for the University of Cambridge,  Chief Inspector  Kathleen O’Toole of the Garda Siochana Inspectorate and  Eimear Fisher  were also keynote speakers on the day.

The paper I gave draws on research from the USA and  the UK on the experiences of older offenders in prison. The paper  examined what is known about older female adults as offenders,  what are the lessons  to be learned from other jurisdictions  in responding to the needs of older female prisoners and highlight  the range of issues and challenges facing policy makers in managing the health and social care needs of this cohort.

Out of the 85,368 prisoners who were held in prisons in England and Wales on March 31st 2010, 8120 people were age 50 and above, thus representing 9.5 per cent of the prison population.

In terms of offences committed in England and Wales, the majority of the over 50 female prison population are serving sentences between four years and less  than  an indeterminate sentence; and the second highest category  is 12 months,  and  less than  4 years.   The most common offence for this age group illustrated in the Table:  Violence against a person,  Drug Offences,  and Theft.  Out of the this population, nearly half  are foreign nationals (44 per cent), with many serving sentences  for importing drugs. This increase in the older prison population cannot purely be explained by demographic change but is a consequence of harsher sentencing policies which have resulted in courts sending a larger  proportion of criminals aged over 50 to prison to serve longer sentences While it is obvious that the criminal justice system is becoming more sensitive to the special needs of ageing offenders, barriers continue to exist, which interfere with the ability for prison officers to respond more effectively to the challenges this particular cohort raises.

For a full summary of the conference proceedings a copy of the report can be obtained from  The event was reported in The Irish Times and for further details go to


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