The study, which analyzed questionnaire responses by 120 female prisoners aged 55 or older in the California prison system, appears in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It is currently available in the Online Early issue of the journal.
"Prison is a not a safe place for vulnerable older people to be," says lead author Brie Williams, MD, a geriatrician at SFVAMC. "Prisons aren't geared to the needs and vulnerabilities of older people. In the prison environment, there are a number of unique physical tasks that must be performed every day in order to retain independence. They're not the same tasks that are called for in the community."
According to the study, while many aging prisoners share the same challenges faced by their counterparts in the community such as bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom they also must perform activities of daily living that are specific to prison. These include dropping to the floor rapidly when an alarm goes off, climbing onto a top bunk, hearing orders from correctional officers, standing in line to be counted, and walking to the dining hall, which may be a considerable distance from a prisoner's cell
"When an alarm goes off, every inmate has to get down on the floor immediately, in order for the staff to maintain control of the inmates. Even some people in wheelchairs are expected to get out of their chairs and onto the floor," explains Williams, who is also a fellow in aging research at the University of California, San Francisco. "You can imagine that for someone who has trouble walking, or with brittle bones, a very quick drop to the floor can be quite hazardous. And alarms may sometimes go off several times a day."