Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prisoners test positive for Covid-19 in Midlands Prison

30th October 2020

The Irish Prison Service has today confirmed that five prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in Midlands Prison. IPRT understands that this is the first confirmed transmission within a prison. In a statement, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has outlined the actions being taken. The IPS has stated that the positive cases relate to one area of the prison, and that all prisoners and staff in the Midlands Prison are being tested as a precaution. IPRT notes the actions being taken and highlights the importance of maintaining access to healthcare, regimes, and family contact at this time.

Commenting this evening, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

"The Irish Prison Service has done well in keeping prisons largely free of COVID-19 to date, and the strong adherence to public health guidance and infection controls protocols should offer some assurance to families outside.

"Even so, the outbreak within Midlands prison is very concerning. Midlands is Ireland's largest prison, where the majority of the men share cells with at least one other person. The prison also holds a significant number of elderly prisoners with complex medical needs, who are at increased risk of adverse complications from COVID-19 infection.

"It is critically important now that numbers in custody are safely reduced to minimise cell sharing, and that prisoners are given increased access to phones and video calls with their families at what is a worrying time.

"Moreover, the response to this outbreak must not centre on confining hundreds of men in their cells for extended periods. The prison service has a duty to protect both the physical and mental health of the people in its care, and we are very concerned about the impact of ongoing restrictions on a population that already had higher rates of mental health issues before the pandemic. Conditions of cocooners in prison earlier this year were experienced as ‘dehumanising’ by some, so all measures must now be taken to both reassure prisoners of their safety and ensure humane conditions. 

"Any restrictions imposed must be proportionate, medically-necessary, and time-limited."

IPRT has previously called on the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service to prioritise the safe release of those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who have underlying health issues (such as asthma, COPD, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes). This is should be based on risk assessment and not category of offence.

Any restrictions imposed should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are proportionate, medically-necessary and time-limited. Restrictions should be subject to advanced record-keeping to monitor the extent to which exercise and meaningful human contact are afforded to people who are subject to restricted regimes.

For further comment, contact Fíona/Pamela on 087-1812990


  • IPRT submission ‘Irish prisons and COVID-19: Proposed Measures’ (March/April 2020) is here:
  • There were 815 prisoners in Midlands Prison on Tuesday 27th October 2020.
  • Midlands prison has the poorest ratio of nurses to prisoners (1:41) of all closed prisons in Ireland.
  • The most recent available census report states that only 40% of people in prison in Midlands were accommodated in single cells. The remaining 60% of prisoners are held in cells with 1, 2 or even 3 other people.
  • These 60% of prisoners (459 men in January 2020) must use the toilet in the presence of others. This is concerning during the pandemic, given the role that social distancing and good hygiene plays in slowing the spread of the virus.
  • In January 2020, 64 men (of 835) in Midlands prison were on a restricted regime, locked up for 21 or more hours a day.
  • Midlands prison has not been subject of a published prison inspection report since the establishment of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
  • The most recent published inspection report of Midlands prison is effectively the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) report published in 2015, in which the CPT explicitly highlighted a “total lack of organisation and management of health-care services”.
  • While the entire prison population disproportionately experiences high levels of ill-health, the age profile of the men held in Midlands Prison is higher than that of the general prison population. Many of the men in Midlands are older and more vulnerable to serious complications arising from COVID-19. See IPRT research on older prisoners here.
  • Census reports, which detail access to out of cell time for the prison population, are usually published by the IPS on a quarterly basis. IPRT is very concerned that the most recent report available is for October 2019, and no census data has been published by the Irish Prison Service since January 2020.

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