Irish Prisons and COVID-19
To date, there is still no confirmed prisoner case of COVID-19 in the Irish prison system. This is a testament to the early decisive action taken by the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice and Equality, including the safe and structured release of 500 people from prison. We welcomed these measures on KFM earlier this month.
We also recognise the dedication of all those who work in Irish prisons – officers, chaplains, healthcare staff, community-based organisations, teachers etc. Of course, the achievements in keeping Irish prisons COVID-19 free to date would not have been possible without the hard work of prisoners themselves. The role that prisoners have played in keeping prisons safe has been commended by IPS Director General Caron McCaffrey.
Nevertheless, IPRT is concerned at the longer-term impact of restrictions as we move from short-term emergency to long-term reality of living in a pandemic. We must not lose sight that self-isolating at home is not the same as isolating in a prison cell, and measures that keep everyone safe are more harshly felt in the prison environment. Along with physical health, it is key that mental health is also prioritised at this time, and that human rights are respected.
While there has been no confirmed prisoner case of COVID-19, details provided by Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan T.D. in the Oireachtas last week give details on the numbers of prisoners in isolation and on the number of prisoners who have been tested.
We understand that this is a worrying time for people in prison, as well as their loved ones in the community. IPRT has written to everyone in prison custody, through the prison newsletter, to reassure them that our advocacy work is continuing and that we are keeping the issues affecting people in prison on the agenda. We are encouraging people in prison to continue to write to us, so that our work is informed directly by current experiences.