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Why Phoenix launched Canada’s first ‘Aging Offender’ Program

In May of 2020, Phoenix Society launched the innovative ‘Aging Offender’ Program out of our Rising Sun Villas building in Surrey.

The program addresses the needs of aging offenders and provides a bridge between correctional institutions and community while offering a combination of reintegration services, along with additional medical supports and services to meet their needs.

This unique new program is also targeted to support a population that is lacking appropriate housing options.

According to the report ‘Aging and Dying in Prison: An Investigation into the Experiences of Older Individuals in Federal Custody,’ the proportion of older individuals in federal custody (those 50 years of age and older) is growing and now account for 25% of the federal prison population. The study found that many older individuals were living out their single greatest expressed fear – dying in prison.

The 2018-19 ‘Annual Report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator’ concluded there was little purpose or value in keeping palliative individuals who pose no undue risk to public safety behind bars.

The report noted the cost-savings of moving some of these individuals into a retirement home or a specialized community based residential facility would be substantial, and would be more responsive to dignity concerns.

In order to address this need, we created the Aging Offender program, specifically designed to ensure residents have suitable accommodation and specialized staff (nurses, healthcare assistants, case managers and outreach workers), to provide quality care.

Prior to this program opening, aging offenders or those with complex medical histories would often remain incarcerated because of the lack of suitable housing, or they were placed into inappropriate settings.

“We are able to care for them and help them transition,” explained Jerrica Hackett, who oversees the program at Phoenix. “We help them figure out their finances, their identification and look for transition options into long-term care facilities, returning to live with family, or any other housing options. We also have individuals who essentially stay with us until they pass. We try to run programs to make their time with us meaningful for them.”

Phoenix offers clients ‘Chair Fit’ classes as well as Music Therapy, and we engage volunteers to run programs.

“We also try to encourage their independence if they’re mobile, so we have staff escort them on outings and provide outreach if they’re not allowed to be out in the community alone,” said Jerrica. “It’s really about helping them have a meaningful and purposeful life following incarceration.”

In less than a year, Phoenix served a dozen individuals through the program.

Phoenix Society CEO Keir Macdonald notes that Community Residential Facilities were never intended to be nursing homes, or long-term care facilities.

“Yet increasingly they are being asked to fulfill those functions,” said Macdonald. “We were very excited to launch this new program and are proud to meet this growing need in our corrections system.”