CARE homes in Scotland should be converted into specialist prisons to provide secure accommodation for hundreds of additional elderly prisoners, including those convicted of sex offences, according to a former Justice Secretary.

Kenny MacAskill said change was essential as latest figures show the numbers over 50s being jailed in Scotland has rocketed 61 per cent in the space of just five years, with an even larger rise in the number of over 60s.

Since 2010/11, the number of male prisoners aged over 50 has risen from 603 to 993 (a 61 per cent rise) and there are now 152 male prisoners over 60, compared with 88 in 2011 (up 63 per cent).

The figures, sourced from unpublished Scottish Prison Service prisoner records, show the jails are having to deal with increasing numbers of older prisoners every year, predominantly due to the increasing prosecution of historic child abuse cases and subsequent convictions.

These can see men in their sixties and seventies beginning long prison sentences for offences committed sometimes decades in the past.

Accommodating them is a problem for the SPS, with many have social care needs which would see them getting help to dress, wash or feed themselves, were they living at home.

Prisons are expecting more inmates with disabilities, conditions such as dementia, or mobility and continence problems, largely as a result of increases in the prosecution of historic abuse cases.

This causes a range of problems for prison officers. For example, HMP Glenochil - which along with HMP Dumfries, houses the majority of Scotland's sex offenders - currently has 20 prisoners with personal evacuation plans because they lack mobility.

In his weekly column for The Herald, Mr MacAskill said prisons were ill-equipped to house such a population while staff lacked the training to deal with them.

New approaches are necessary he said, because prisons and prison officers are "struggling to cope with the geriatrics in their care"

Scotland's chief inspector of Prisons David Strang recently announced he is to conduct a series of inspections to find out what prison is like for older prisoners, to help prisons consider how to cope with growing numbers.

He said: "As I go about inspections I already notice people walking with zimmers or using wheelchairs. If they were living at home they would be receiving social care support. Those convicted of serious offences, including sexual offences, still need to be detained if they are a risk to the public. But this is likely to be more of a challenge in the future."

Now Mr MacAskill has said prison chiefs should consider purchasing care homes for older prisoners and using them to deprive people of their liberty while managing their needs.

He said: "Maybe, buying a care home and adding some modest security measures is a better option than trying to care within a current institution."

Mr MacAskill said his suggestions were only proposals intended to provoke debate, but a secured care home option is believed to be currently under consideration within the SPS.

The former minister said other suggestions would include wider use of electronic tagging or holding offenders in other secure specialised care settings. "We have to think out of the box. We are not the only society seeing this change, but once football clubs get to grips with what some coaches may have done, it is only going to get worse."

He said that while some of Scotland's Victorian jails were particularly unsuitable, even new prisons were designed for 21-45 year old inmates, not those aged 65-85.

While there might be problems with nimbyism over the location of 'prison care homes', particularly if housing convicted paedophiles, he said there were precedents for the approach. "The example would be secure care for children, where you have young people under lock and key but it is still a children's home."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Prison Service said number of male prisoners over the age of 50 had risen over the last five years. "It is acknowledged that the number of people in prison with high care needs, including social care need and palliative care need, is a growing issue in Scotland," she said. "The SPS commissioned an estate wide social care needs assessment which is scheduled for publication in 2017."