Promoting rights and dignity for older persons deprived of liberty

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The APT has proposed a series of recommendations to prevent torture and ill-treatment of older persons in places of detention, who can face additional vulnerabilities when deprived of liberty

Earlier this year, the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons issued a call for input for her thematic report on older persons deprived of liberty, to be presented at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council. 

The APT contributed to the expert consultation and presented a written submission that outlines the particular risks of torture and ill-treatment faced by older persons deprived of liberty, within and outside the criminal justice system. 

“While everyone deprived of liberty is in a situation of vulnerability, we know that some groups, including older people, can face greater risk of torture and ill-treatment,” said Veronia Filippeschi, APT Senior Aviser, Vulnerabilities and Policy. 

“These risks start in the community. They are caused and compounded by negative stereotypes around older persons, barriers and discrimination in access to key services, and public infrastructure that does not meet their specific needs,” she said.

The APT’s submission notes that, within the walls of a prison or a care home, the vulnerability of older persons increases because of poor conditions, a lack of appropriate healthcare services and limited meaningful contact with the outside world.

Personal characteristics, such as disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, along with the intersection of these characteristics, can shape their experience of detention and place them at heightened risk of discrimination, ill-treatment and torture.

The physical and mental health of older persons, as well as factors such as poverty and low education, can also expose them to higher risk of abuse from staff and other persons deprived of liberty, including during the first moments of detention. For example, during police interviews, older persons can be asked leading and misleading questions or being placed under interrogative pressure, resulting in false or unreliable information. 

To address these risks and uphold the dignity of older persons deprived of liberty, the APT proposed the following recommendations addressed to States:

  • Collecting disaggregated data related to persons deprived of liberty within and beyond the criminal justice system
  • Ensuring comprehensive classification and needs assessment upon admission to places of detention to determine age, profile, type of crime or misdemeanour committed, risks and special needs
  • Providing appropriate conditions of detention, services and activities that meet the specific needs of older persons
  • Providing specialised healthcare at least equivalent to that available in the community
  • Training of law enforcement officials, prison guards, health professionals and staff of prisons, psychiatric institutions, social care homes and other places of detention
  • Implementing alternatives to detention and deinstitutionalisation measures for older person
  • Ensuring independent oversight of deprivation of liberty, through ratifying OPCAT, establishing independent national preventive mechanisms and implementing their recommendations.

Read the APT’s submission to the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. 

Staff members