Heaven or hell? Aging behind bars in Israel

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Prison populations in many Western countries are growing older - a trend which is expected to become more pronounced in the coming years. This study therefore aimed to better understand the experiences of older independent prisoners held in a special separate wing for older prisoners in Ma'asiyahu Prison in Israel. The research was qualitative, involving a maximum-variation sample of 12 of the older prisoners in the wing, who were interviewed in depth. Previous studies have tended to describe the experience of older prisoners in terms of extremes, viewing prison as either a "heaven" or "hell" for such prisoners. Our study, however, found that the older prisoners actually viewed incarceration as a mixture of both extremes, with misery and suffering being coupled with a sense of safety and comfort. This complex and contradictory viewpoint can be explained by considering two central points: 1) that the separate older prisoners' wing of Ma'asiyahu Prison acted as a city of refuge" (protecting as well as confining prisoners) and 2) that the prisoners there were socially and psychologically "mature." Both themes are discussed in depth in the article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-159
Number of pages15
JournalHallym International Journal of Aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007


  • Aging prisoners
  • Mature prisoners
  • Older prisoners
  • Prisons and aging
  • Punishment and aging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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