As the founder of Prisoners Families Voices, I am overwhelmed regarding the high number of emails we receive concerning dementia and prison visiting. Some of you may not know, but apart from running and monitoring PFV, I work as an activities coordinator on a secure unit for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I am currently studying for a higher qualification in this field of work too.
Never did I honestly think that my work with Prisoners Families Voices would be taken to my job assisting people with dementia. But it has! I meet families all the time who have loved ones in prison. I also talk to families who have to make a decision whether or not to take their family member with the disease on a prison visit. Some patients are fully able to go on a prison visit, mainly those with early stage dementia. Many patients I have worked with remember that their loved ones are in prison or have served a prison sentence. Those suffering with dementia indeed have every right to visit their loved one in prison, just like you and I. But the issues that come with the illness sometimes isn't easy to understand, so how are prison officers able to cope with someone with this illness in a visits room? What happens if a patient starts to wander around in the visits room? What happens if there is an outburst? What happens if that person loses their inhibitions in a visiting room? It does happen because we receive emails telling us it happens. A prison officer emailed us today and said it has happened to her whilst on duty and yes, the statistics are indeed frightening with more and more people being diagnosed with the illness under the age of 50. I actually work with a patient in her 40's with Alzheimer's. How frightening is that? And I wouldn't wish this cruel illness on anyone. Many families I speak to refuse to take their family members with the illness to a prison visit because they fear that they will either be thrown out or that prison officers will not understand the complications of the illness. Some people with dementia have severe challenging behaviour but that in my opinion should never deny them the rights to see their loved ones in prison. I have seen patients begging their relatives to take them to see someone in prison, but the topic is most always diverted to something else in order not to talk about visiting. This subject for me is one that does need to be addressed. Fair enough, if you wish to ignore my opinion for the time being please do so, but I will guarantee that a few years down the line, people will have no option but to address it because it will become an issue due to the amount of younger individuals developing the disease. Watch this space!