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Without doubt, The Care Act signifies a historic change in local government responsibility for adult prisoners, as from this month local authorities are responsible for assessing and meeting the social care needs of adult prisoners. This is not just applicable to those on discharge but those within the prison setting. 

Whilst it will no doubt present certain challenges to local authorities, I believe it’s a positive step. After all, up until now it has been unclear who is responsible for meeting the social care needs of prisoners. 

There’s a whole host of issues for adult social workers to consider of course; participation in the day-to-day life of the prison, loss of dignity in certain circumstances, potential abuse from other prisoners not to mention preparing them for life upon release. 

The changes of course will affect a broad number of local authorities that have prisons within their boundaries; 58 to be precise. 

Crucially, in terms of the Care Act, prisoners will be treated as if they are a resident in the local authority area for as long as they reside in that prison. 

There are some key notable differences though, which I am glad have been properly scoped out, and these are:

  • Prisoners cannot receive direct payments and will have much less choice over how their eligible care needs are met.
  • Adult Social Care departments will not be responsible for investigating safeguarding incidents in prisons.
  • Prisoners will not be able to express a preference for particular accommodation except when this is being arranged for after their release
  • Local Authorities will not have to protect the property of adults in prison or approved premises with care and support needs

At this point in time, the Department of Health and NOMS are unsure of the exact numbers of prisoners eligible for support, but it is likely to be in the region of 10,400 aged over 50 with 3,500 of these aged over 60. 

With the latter group reported to be the fastest growing segment of the prisoner population, clearly outlining the responsibilities of local authorities is crucial. The ageing prison population is particularly pronounced both as a result of individuals serving long sentences and older people being convicted of historical crimes. 

Of course, whilst older adults will make up the majority of those prisoners requiring social care, others with disabilities or long term health conditions will need social care support too. For example, this could include someone in a Youth Offenders Institution (YOIs) who is over the age of 18. 

With the prisons varying widely in their size, demographics and type of offenders held, the needs are going to differ quite widely. For example, the Isle of Wight, Whatton and Wakefield prisons have 145-190 prisoners aged 60 and over and local resettlement prisons have a lot less older prisoners but have a much higher throughput. The challenge will be determining the level of support needed and working directly with NOMS and local prisons to establish the best way to approach prisoners. 

It is a very positive step forward though and one that will hopefully mean that prisoners are able to receive adequate tailored social care much earlier and certainly ahead of being released. 

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