With the most unfortunate and horrifying custodial death of 84 year old Jesuit Priest Stan Swamy, maybe it is high time to revisit the jail rules. It may be improper to detain people over the age of 80 in jails. Those who have to be kept in detention could be possibly placed under house arrest or in old age homes where their age related special needs are taken care of.
Prison ensures social isolation and confinement which can result in deterioration in mental and physical health through neglect and fear especially in the elderly and the vulnerable. Far from achieving the desired outcome of prison which is reformation, to lead law abiding and useful lives in prison and when they are released, their time in prison can be a retrograde step where they either suffer through ill health and even death and for those that survive, they will be more resentful of the prison machinery and society.
Prisons should only be used to reform and to protect the peace of the man in the street and for providing a sanction against very serious wrongdoing. The detention of people over the age of 80 in poorly kept prisons who through frailty or other illness is a sad reflection on society and a failure to deal with people humanely. It can also sometimes be a waste of taxpayers' money. Their reform and health must be cared for and addressed in a different and special way.
Almost everyone over 80 is grappling with serious health issues so the jails are not conducive for such aged people. Elderly persons admitted to jails require a different sort of health care. Concerns about the health status of older inmates and their chronic health issues has to be addressed in a special way and the inability of most jails to accommodate their special needs cannot be just overlooked.
Prisons have a duty of care towards all prisoners and must take all reasonable steps to keep them safe while in custody. The prison has a responsibility to ensure the safety of prisoners – which includes protecting those at special risk of injury or who are vulnerable.
The prison system must never be inherently unjust and inhumane. We should take heed of the wise words of Christopher Zoukis, a leading voice on criminal justice reform in America and author of many books on prison life, when he said 'If we treat prisoners like animals, the whole time they are locked up, that's what we will get when they are back on the streets. – wild, dangerous animals.' In the case of the elderly if they are lucky to be back on the streets, we will get a severely ill and demoralized human being staring tragedy through a lack of care. This cannot be a true reflection of a caring and progressive society.
This issue would be a fit one for the Chief Justice of India to Suo Motu take cognizance so that appropriate directions could be issued which would be applicable nationwide on the environment in which very elderly persons should be detained and taken care of.