COVID-19 and incarcerated older adults: a commentary on risk, care and early release in Australia

Ye In (Jane) Hwang, Natasha Ginnivan, Paul Leslie Simpson, Susan Baidawi, Adrienne Withall, Brie Williams, Tony G Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleOtherpeer-review



Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges for people in places of detention.
There has been a notable increase in the proportion of older people incarcerated in prisons worldwide.Given the vulnerability and risk of disproportionate adverse outcomes posed by COVID-19 for older people, there is a need for prisons to urgently consider risk management, care and release strategies pertinent to their older residents.
Approach: The present commentary draws on current policies, practices and literature regarding the health, needs and management of older incarcerated adults in Australia to discuss risk, care and early release for this population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Findings: Incarcerated persons experience poorer health and accelerated age-related decline
compared to those in the general community. The present situation offers the opportunity to fill
knowledge and practice gaps, including policies for staff training, identification of dementia and
cognitive decline, assessment of mobility issues, addressing barriers to health-seeking, possibilities of medical or compassionate release, risk assessment and release protocols, and post-release needs.
Implications: Whilst Australian prisons have acknowledged the vulnerability of older persons, more
focused adaptation of COVID-19-related policies to consider adults as young as 45 years are needed. Appropriate, ethical identification and management of cases in this population is needed, as is discussion on issues of decarceration and medical release. Re-conceptualisation of incarcerated adults as “citizens in need of care”, rather than as “offenders to be secured”, will be beneficial. Robust, local evidence is needed to assist decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Prisoner Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 May 2021


  • older prisoners
  • Covid-19
  • Public health
  • Risk management
  • Correctional health care
  • Elderly prisoners
  • Medical ethics
  • Infectious disease

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