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Motivations of Elderly Offenders in Singapore Prison Service

The number of inmates over the age of 60 have almost doubled from 359 to 651 between 2012 to 2016 and this increase in representation of elderly offenders within the overall population has led to a greater urgency in understanding them better. While the needs of these offenders are relatively well known, motivations behind their offending are an area that is less well documented (Lemieux, Dyeson, & Castiglione, 2002; Sampson & Laub, 1995). Knowledge of their motivations of offending will serve to guide upstream and downstream interventions aimed at reducing elderly offending.

Life course theories argue that offending later in life is a result of the breakdown of informal measures of social control such as marriage and work (Laub & Sampson, 2003; Suji, 2011). Similarly, Risk, Needs and Responsivity (RNR) argues for the role of social factors like work and family in predicting offending behaviour (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). Based on these theories, elderly offending appears to be related to economic need brought about by age related issues and a lack of pro-social support (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1983). However, there has been no previous research on elderly offenders within Singapore’s context and the current study sought to understand the applicability of such findings to Singapore.

Profile of elderly offenders

  • 75% of elderly offenders were charged with drug-related offences such as possession, consumption or trafficking of drugs.
  • Elderly offenders (i.e., above the age of 60) also had lower education and incomes in comparison to offenders aged between 50 to 59 years old.
  • Approximately 32% of elderly offenders had declared that they had at least one existing health problem that they were facing.

Motivations of elderly offending

Elderly individuals who committed drug-related offences or had committed an offence with a financial gain element were found to come from similar social contexts.

These individuals viewed themselves as criminals who had no choice but to offend and their accounts reflected strong anti-social networks and poor familial relations.

  • Many of the offenders interviewed also experienced substantial financial difficulty due to their inability to find work.
  • These individuals also exhibited attitudes supportive of crime such as justification and minimization.
  • Elderly offenders who were incarcerated for drug-related offences blamed their addiction (e.g., being unable to cope with cravings) for their offending behaviours.
  • It was also found that many of these elderly offenders were undeterred by imprisonment.

In contrast, elderly offenders who committed violent offences came from a relatively stable social context but a majority of them experienced a significant stressor in their lives prior to their offending. Apart from that commonality, motivations for violent offending were different for all individuals surveyed, with themes like self-defence and provocation being cited.


Overall, the findings argue for the need to target elderly offenders’ social context to help mitigate their risk of re-offending in the community. This is especially true for elderly offenders with drug antecedents, who would require substantial pro-social support to increase their social capital when released from incarceration. This could be achieved by reducing their association with antisocial peers through interventions such as actively engaging in work and the use of families as outlets for providing pro-social support.

Difficulty finding employment is another area that can be addressed to help reduce offending amongst elderly offenders. Work programs should however take into account the fact that these offenders are older and may be unable to engage in the menial work that they previously used to do. In addition, their lower education and poorer command of English should be considered when assigning these individuals to jobs.



Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2010). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, 5th ed. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis.
Hirschi,T., & Gottfredson, M.R. (1983). Age and the explanation of crime. American Journal of Sociology, 552-584
Laub, J.H & Sampson, R.J. (2003). Life Course Desisters? Trajectories of Crime Among Delinquent Boys Followed to Age 70’. Criminology, 41(3), 555-592
Lemieux, C.M., Dyeson, T.B., & Castiglione, B. (2002). “Revisiting the literature on prisoners who are older. Are we wiser?” The Prison Journal, 82(4), 440-458
Sampson, R.J., and J.H. Laub. (1995) Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Harvard University Press.
Suji, N.F. (2011). Elderly Criminals and Aging Populations: Extending the life course perspective. Office of Population Research, Department of Sociology. Princeton University

Author: This summary was prepared by Loh Eng Hao and the Principal Investigator of this study is Toh Weisheng, Mark.