Irish Penal Reform Trust

Irish Prisons and COVID-19: updates

27th March 2020

[Please note: this page is not static and is being updated as information changes. Last updated 27th March 2020.]

"Prison health is community health."

The Department of Justice & Equality and the Irish Prison Service have outlined the measures they are taking to reduce the prison population safely, given the significant challenges for staff and prisoners should an outbreak of Covid-19 occur in the prison system. IPRT welcomes this. In particular, we recognise the additional measures which are now available in the event of a severe outbreak of COVID-19 in an Irish prison.

Measures that the Irish Prison Service is taking in response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 risk are also published on the IPS website. IPRT welcomes the clear statement that "preventing the spread of infectious diseases in prisons is both a public health concern and a human rights imperative."  With effect from close of business on Friday 27th March 2020, family visits to all Irish prisons have been suspended. It is encouraging that the Irish Prison Service is now making arrangements to introduce visits by video link from early next week. More information on how these videos will work is available here

Prisons and prison populations are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. People in prisons live in close proximity to each other, have higher rates of poor health and chronic conditions, and access to cleaning supplies and sanitary facilities can be limited. IPRT is concerned at the serious implications that overcrowding and cell-sharing in Irish prisons may have if an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs:

IPRT welcomes that curtailments in prison visits have been gradual and in response to community risk and national public health guidance. Although the IPS has plans in place for extending other means of family communication (i.e. video link), we believe this should be accompanied by increased access to phone calls and other means of communication.

IPRT notes that other jurisdictions have responded to COVID-19 by releasing prisoners assessed as presenting low risk to public safety. As with all releases from prison, there should be a structured plan in place for each individual, with particular attention to linking up with community services. IPRT further notes UN SPT general guidance on quarantine, which recognises that "it must not result in the ill-treatment of those detained."

"Prisons and other places of detention are high-risk environments for the transmission of these diseases. This is related to the over-incarceration of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups who carry a disproportionately high burden of disease and ill-health; the criminalisation of drug users and high levels of injecting drug use; overcrowded and substandard prison conditions; inadequate health care; and the denial of harm reduction services." ~ IPRT, 2016

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IPRT is curating useful resources and international guidance regarding COVID-19 and imprisonment as it is published here

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