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Monitoring infectious diseases in prison as part of a whole-system review of prison healthcare

23rd June 2016

Monitoring the prevalence of infectious diseases (HIV, HCV and TB) in prison is an issue of concern to prison staff and prisoners alike, and must be included in regular prison health monitoring and inspection mechanisms. To ensure that public health and human rights standards are being met in the Irish prison system, a comprehensive review of prison health services should be undertaken with urgency, and with the involvement of the Department of Health. 

These are the core recommendations of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading campaigners for the protection of human rights in places of detention, arising from a new report published today (Thursday, 23rd June 2016), Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction ~ Mapping Report on Ireland.

The inextricable links between social exclusion, drug usage, crime and prison are among the central findings of the report. The report finds that the transient nature of the prison population, both within the prison system and upon release back into the community, means that “every attempt” must be made to ensure continuity of care for those diagnosed with infectious diseases in prison. 

Other key recommendations from the report include: the need for transparent procedures around monitoring of infectious diseases in prison, including the publication of prevalence data; and the need for expansion of harm reduction approaches in prison, including needle exchange programmes, found to eliminate new outbreaks of blood-borne viruses in prisons, and provision of Naloxone to individuals at high-risk of opioid overdose on release from prison. 

Speaking in advance of the launch, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“The nature of imprisonment and the transience of the prison population, both within prisons and upon release into the community, pose specific challenges to the prevention, screening and treatment of infectious diseases like HIV, HCV and TB. As well as ensuring that effective monitoring of infectious diseases is included in regular inspection mechanisms, a whole-system review of the prison healthcare service is urgently required to ensure that the Service is capable of meeting the wide range of complex physical and mental health needs in prison.”

"The urgent need for a comprehensive review of prison healthcare has previously been identified by the Inspector of Prisoners, and also by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which found the healthcare service in some Irish Prisons to be in 'a state of crisis' on its most recent visit to Ireland.”

“Imprisonment by its nature exacerbates mental and physical health issues, while substandard or overcrowded conditions can contribute to the transmission of diseases. It is crucial that failings in prison health monitoring and healthcare provision does not cultivate more serious problems for the community in future.”

The report, Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction ~ Mapping Report on Ireland, forms part of an EU co-funded project, led by Harm Reduction International.

Prof Joe Barry, Clinical Professor in Public Health Medicine, Trinity College Dublin and Deirdre Malone, Executive Director, IPRT are both available for interview and/or further comment. Photos will be available from 2pm. Contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990 or communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS: 

1 – Harm Reduction in Prisons in Ireland

IPRT will launch a new report, Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction ~ Mapping Report Ireland,at 11am on Thurs 23rd June 2016 in the Wood Quay Venue, Dublin 8. Speakers at the event are: Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly; Mr Fergal Black, Director of Care and Rehabilitation, Irish Prison Service; Dr. Joe Barry, Clinical Professor in Public Health Medicine, Trinity College Dublin; Emmet Conroy, Red Cross Prison Programme; and one of the authors of the report, Catherine MacNamara, University of Limerick. 

Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction ~ Mapping Report Ireland is available for download here.

The national report on Ireland forms part of an EU co-funded project, led by Harm Reduction International. For more information on the project, including the European report and monitoring tool, see: http://www.iprt.ie/harm-reduction-in-prisons 

2 – Priority Penal Policy Directions 2016-2021

In advance of the #GE2016, IPRT put forward its ten priority directions for a fairer and more effective justice system, backed up by solid evidence and research. Prison Health related actions include:

  • Conduct a whole-system review of prison health services
  • Ensure that prisoners with serious mental health issues are diverted to more appropriate therapeutic facilities
  • Increase the number of forensic mental health spaces
  • Adopt measures to reduce the demand for drugs in prison
  • Ensure that all prisoners who wish to address their addictions have access to drugs treatment services
  • Ensure monitoring of infectious diseases including HIV, HCV and TB is included in regular prison health monitoring and inspection mechanisms

See: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2852

3 – Ratification of OPCAT

Ireland signed the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) in October 2007, but has yet to ratify it. Ratification of OPCAT would require the establishment of a National Preventative Mechanism: a national detention monitoring body, which has multidisciplinary expertise – including health – and which is fully independent of Government, with financial autonomy. For a clear explanation of the OP-CAT, see: http://apt.ch/en/what-is-the-opcat/

4 – Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.


EU logoThis project is co-funded by the European Union under the Criminal Justice Programme. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the project and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission. 

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