The United Nations identifies nine different types of inmates who are considered special needs inmates (2009). Inmates are classified as a result of characteristics that separate themselves from others, and it is these groups of inmates that are differentiated as a result of specific qualifications, causing them to be identified as special needs offenders (Johnson, 2011). The nine different classifications of special needs inmates are those diagnosed with mental health issues or mental illness; those with disabilities; those of either ethnic or racial minority or of an indigenous people; foreign nationals; LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) individuals; older prisoners; those with terminal illnesses; and those who are under the sentence of death (United Nations, 2009). Each of these different types of special needs inmates has their own requirements for housing and care and by reviewing some of these overall requirements for two types of special needs inmates, it will be possible to determine an appropriate program that may be implemented within a correctional facility in order to address the needs of those prisoners.

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Looking first to the prisoners with mental illnesses, addictions, or other mental health issues, these individuals must deal not only with the confines present in the penal system, but also with their own internal demons as well. It is because of their mental issues that they are unable to integrate into the penal system as smoothly as those who display normal brain and body chemistries. Often, these individuals find themselves taunted, tormented, and bullied as a result of their mental illness, with other inmates specifically singling them out as a result of their mental disorders (Roman, 2011). In order to address the needs of these inmates, certain prisons are working to create alternative correctional housing facilities on prison grounds for those with addiction issues, mental illnesses, and mental health issues, keeping them incarcerated while at the same time providing these special needs inmates with access to the services that they will need in order to address the mental health concerns of the inmates while still completing their prison sentence (Roman, 2011). This type of program ensures that the sentence of the individual is carried out while removing the stigma and punishment the individuals would face as a result of their mental illness or issue, something over which they have no control.

Elderly inmates too have special needs, for a variety of reasons. Older individuals are becoming a larger part of the prison population, especially in developed countries (United Nations, 2009). There are two factors associated with the increase in elderly inmates; first, life expectancies continue to increase due to better quality of life and better care offered, and second, sentences are becoming tougher, resulting in more individuals being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (United Nations, 2009). This results in prison populations remaining high due to the number of elderly individuals present in prison serving life sentences (United Nations, 2009). As prisons are designed with younger offenders, and the rehabilitation thereof, primarily in mind, most prisons lack the resources needed in order to care for the elderly offender (Combs, 2013). These elderly offenders may become costly to the state as they often require specialized medical attention, health care, housing, and even differentiated program needs (Combs, 2013). In order to address these issues, it is recommended that alternative prisons be created for the specific purpose of housing elderly inmates, aged 55 or older. In creating these types of prisons it will be possible to tailor the prison system to work to ensure the needs of these individuals are being met; alternatively, the penal system could look at a system of parole for those who are no longer a threat to society, reducing the burden on the taxpayers.

By understanding the different needs of each type of special needs inmate, it will be possible to create an associated program that will allow the prisons to address the disabilities or needs of those inmates while maintaining better control on the overall total prisoner population.

  • Combs, S. (2013). Special needs offenders should be diverted or transferred from the texas department of criminal justice. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Jan 2014].
  • Johnson, M. (2011). Special needs offenders in our jails and prisons. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Jan 2014].
  • Roman, D. (2011). When jail inmates have special needs. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Jan 2014].
  • United Nations. (2009). Handbook on prisoners with special needs. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Jan 2014].