Over-50s make up third of inmates at prison for sex offenders
HMP Bure near Norwich has specially adapted cells, wheelchair pushers and 26 bowls teams, inspectors’ report reveals
An English prison that specialises in holding and treating sex offenders has so many prisoners over the age of 50 that it has 26 teams competing in its bowls club, jail inspectors have revealed.
HMP Bure, near Norwich, is one of five specialist jails in England and Wales dedicated by the prison service to cope with the surge in convicted sex offenders.
The number of older prisoners convicted for sex offences has nearly doubled over the past decade, with the jailing of high-profile offenders such as the BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall only the tip of the iceberg of convictions for offences that date back to the 1970s.
The latest official inspection report on Bure prison discloses that 183 of its 500 inmates are over 50, with the oldest aged 84. “The prison had scheduled in monthly mental health awareness training for the coming year, which contained a section on the signs of dementia,” said the inspectors who visited in May. “Several activities co-ordinated by the gym were specifically for the over-50s, including a bowls club, which had 26 teams.”
The inspectors said St John Ambulance had trained about 20 prisoners as wheelchair pushers, although some staff refused to push them. Two cells had been adapted with special showers, handrails and lowered call bells and light switches for use by older and disabled prisoners.
The prison had installed lifts in communal buildings, had an easy-access shower facility on each unit and a portable wheelchair ramp available for use. Retired prisoners were paid £5.65 a week on the standard rate of the earned incentives behaviour scheme and £6.65 at the enhanced rate. They did not have to pay for in-cell TV.
The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, praised Bure as a safe prison, with low levels of violence and where force was rarely used. He said that it benefited from its clear purpose of holding and treating sex offenders.
One of the few complaints heard by the inspectors was that the food was “too healthy”, with a four-week varied menu that catered for all diets and included five portions of fruit and vegetables on offer each day.
“As a group these prisoners are generally co-operative and easier to manage in a custodial context. The main challenge the prison faces is in ensuring its treatment of these men helps reduce risk as many prepare for release,” Hardwick said.
“Much of what has been achieved at Bure in its early years of operation is very good. However, prisoners need to be occupied more fully, and incremental improvements are required to ensure offender management is operating to the highest standards.”
Sex offenders now account for about 11,500 of the 85,000-strong prison population in England and Wales. The five jails dedicated to holding them are Albany on the Isle of Wight, Ashfield in Pucklechurch, near Bristol, Bure in Norfolk, Whatton in Nottinghamshire and Usk in Wales. In at least four other prisons, sex offenders make up more than half the population.