J Med Ethics 28:156-159 doi:10.1136/jme.28.3.156
  • Ethics, law, and medicine

Dementia in prison: ethical and legal implications

  1. S Fazel1,
  2. J McMillan2,
  3. I O'Donnell3
  1. 1Section of Old Age Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Centre for Ethics and Communication, University of Oxford, Departments of Public Health and Primary Care, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S Fazel, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK;
  • Accepted 11 January 2002
  • Revised 31 October 2001


As the number of elderly prisoners increases in the UK and other Western countries, there will be individuals who develop dementia whilst in custody. We present two case vignettes of men with dementia in English prisons, and explore some of the ethical implications that their continuing detention raises. We find little to support their detention in the various purposes of prison put forward by legal philosophers and penologists, and conclude by raising some of the possible implications of The Human Rights Act 1998.