28th August 2020
While these positive tests don’t detract from the significant success of the Irish Prison Service in keeping prisoners free from a confirmed case of COVID-19 up to now, IPRT is concerned that any significant rise in prison committals in the coming months as the Courts return will impact on the Irish Prisons Service’s ability to keep the people in their custody safe from infection.
It is more important now than ever that all stakeholders work together to ensure that no one is sent to prison for less serious offences and certainly not due to a lack of a bed or mental health or addiction services in the community. Remand should be used sparingly, with a focus on alternatives to custody where appropriate under the law – this is particularly notable given that at least one of the two confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the prisoner population was in a remand prisoner.
For those who are remanded or committed to custody, IPRT believes that early testing in prisons remains essential. While the Irish Prison Service, prisoners, and other prison staff have done very well so far to protect people in prison, it is really important that the Irish Prison Service continues to testing with fast results, to ensure that people are not kept in what can be very severe quarantine conditions for up to 14 days. These conditions can exacerbate anxiety and lead to serious and lasting impacts on mental health.
While testing on committal and other safety measures are essential to keeping the prison community both physically and mentally safe, these need to be paired with measures on release to keep ex-prisoners and the community safe from infection. To slow the spread of the virus, and to ensure we meet our rights obligations, we need to prevent release into homelessness and continue with joined-up approaches that prevailed during the peak of the pandemic earlier this year.
For more on our IPRT's work on COVID-19 and prisons, visit the dedicated section of our website.
IPRT outlines a number of 'Proposed Measures' to be taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to minimise its impact on the whole prison community. Read more here.