Gray-haired inmates are getting some perks

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Gray-haired inmates are getting some perks

With a rising number of inmates aged 65 and above, correctional facilities nationwide are setting up special prison cells with heated floors and hot and cold running water - conditions that younger criminals can only dream of.

The Nambu Correctional Service in Seoul began the improvements in May and there are now 37 such cells in institutions around the country housing 141 prisoners. Most of those prisoners have more than four months left in their jail terms.

According to government data, the number of senior citizen prisoners has been on a steady rise, hitting 948 in 2012 from 776 two years earlier. As Korea’s population ages, the age of people committing crimes and getting thrown in jail has risen.

And many of those convicts have health problems due to their age.

Each special prison cell, which is 17 square meters (182 square feet), costs the government between 20 million won and 40 million won ($18,000 and $36,000) to build.

Senior convicts are also offered special programs designed to prevent them from slipping into dementia.

At the Daegu jail, 37 older prisoners attend an art class once a week to receive what is known as “art therapy,” which includes drawing and folding colored paper.

A class on crafts using hanji, or Korean traditional paper, is held at the Daejeon jail. The Seoul Nambu Correctional Service and the Gwangju Correctional Service run dementia prevention programs that involve cultivating vegetables and an exercise program with yoga and stretching to counter illnesses that come with aging.

Doctors pay visits twice a week and individually meet the prisoners to check their mental health. Health check-ups are held every six months. Regular inmates get check-ups once a year.

Inmates are generally required to do some factory work, but elder prisoners usually make shopping bags and envelopes.

“In an aging era like ours, it’s time we design different environments for elderly inmates,” said Yu Seung-man, 50, head of the Daegu Correctional Service.

Jang Man-ho, 50, the deputy head, said such special-purpose prison cells are popular among older inmates, and said there are plans to increase the capacity of the facilities if necessary.

BY KIM YUN-HO [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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