A new strategy for dealing with older inmates is urgently needed, according to a report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland.
The study found that while some over-60s felt well looked after by prison staff, others were not having their needs met by the system.
David Strang, chief inspector of prisons, said the research had uncovered some “distressing” accounts of the treatments of older prisoners while highlighting the challenges of responding to their health and social care needs.
Issues raised by prisoners ranged from delays in receiving medication and attending hospital appointments to everyday concerns such as mobility and suitability of accommodation.
Within the last year alone, the number of older prisoners has increased by a fifth.
About 280 prisoners in Scotland are over the age of 60, with 164 of those contributing to the report via a questionnaire.
A number of prisoners and staff were also interviewed.
Mr Strang said: “Too many older people in our prisons are not having their needs met in a satisfactory way.
“The report contains distressing details of the treatment of some older prisoners, especially when they were out of prison, either at court or at hospital.
“During our research, we heard positive accounts of how some older prisoners felt well looked after by prison officers and staff who demonstrated kindness and compassion. But for many, their accommodation was unsuitable.
“We interviewed one man in his 70s who had to sleep on the top bunk of his bed in the cell he shared with a less able prisoner.
“Older prisoners told us that they were not able to take part in activities because of their difficulty in walking distances.
“Many expressed their fears of growing old in prison and the possibility of dying alone.
“There is a clear need for such basics of life as suitable activities and social contact.
“I hope that this report will lead to effective change in the treatment of older prisoners in Scotland.”
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This report highlights the challenges of providing effective care and a constructive regime for an increasingly elderly and frail prison population.
“It is a challenge which the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) cannot meet on its own.
“Prison staff should not be expected to do the jobs of nurses and care providers.
“A comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure health, social care and criminal justice agencies work together to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of people growing old behind bars.”
An SPS spokeswoman said the report and its “constructive commentary” was welcomed.
She said: “As the report acknowledges, SPS cannot respond to the challenges of managing the increasing elderly population alone and we look forward to working with our partners to ensure that we provide the best possible care and support for older people in custody.”