Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prison Census Reports 2020

13th November 2020

Following delays, the April and July Prison Population Census Reports were published during the week of 9th November 2020.

The January reports were published in Spring 2020 but were unpublished in Autumn 2020. They were made available online again in advance of the publication of the April and July 2020 reports.

‘Rule 103’ is a new addition to these census reports. Prisoners held on Rule 103 are held under COVID-19 infection control measures (isolation, quarantine, and cocooning).

Key points from the April and July reports:

  • The number of people in solitary confinement (22+ hours in a cell) jumped from 75 (January), to 127 (April), to 273 (July). However, these figures include people in quarantine and medical isolation. Therefore, the numbers being held in solitary confinement for non-medical reasons, such as protection, is not known.
  • The number of people subject to a restricted regime (i.e. with less than five hours daily out-of-cell time) increased from 589 (January), to 770 (April), to 883 (July). In January 2020, prior to the pandemic, almost 14% of people in prison were on a restricted regime. By July 2020, this rose to 22%.
  • In July, people on restricted regimes for COVID-19 related reasons (Rule 103) amounted to 34% of all people held on restricted regimes.
  • The number of prisoners accommodated in single cells decreased from 2,107 (January), to 2,080 (April), to 2,079 (July). It is concerning that during a pandemic, the number of people accommodated in single cells decreased. (While the percentage of people accommodated in single cells increased, this was led by an overall reduction in the prison population rather than an increase in the number accommodated in single cells.)
  • The number of prisoners required to slop out decreased from 58 (January), to 51 (April), to 44 (July).

Over the course of the pandemic, media reports have suggested that prisoners suspected of having COVID-19 have been held in conditions akin to solitary confinement. Similarly, in a report published by the Office of Inspector of Prisons and Maynooth University, one prisoner cocooning stated that 'cocooning is like doing my time in solitary confinement’.

IPRT has previously highlighted the importance of the availability of single-cell accommodation for those who chose to avail of it. This is of increased importance during a pandemic, when access to single-cell accommodation is essential in order to meet compliance with infection and prevention control standards, including facilitating social distancing.

While it is welcome that this data has been published, the lack of data published during the pandemic is a cause for concern. Additionally, this data is a snapshot only and does not capture trends or day to day fluctuations, or minimum and maximum values throughout the period of restrictions.

All Prison Population Census Reports are available on the Irish Prison Service website here.

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