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Alcohol-free hand sanitiser given to prisoners over fears it would be used for 'moonshine'

Alcohol-based sanitiser was banned after prisoners drank a concoction of handwash and prescription drugs in 2014.

Image: Shutterstock/gemphoto

THE IRISH PRISON Service (IPS) is providing inmates with alcohol-free hand sanitiser, which may be less effective against Covid-19, due to fears the disinfectant would be used to make ‘moonshine’.

Alcohol-based sanitiser was banned from Irish jails after three prisoners drank a concoction of handwash and prescription drugs at Limerick Prison during Christmas 2014.

They were subsequently treated at the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick (UHL), where they were reported to have caused “mayhem” for other patients and staff.

An investigation followed and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser in prisons was discontinued.

A spokesman for the IPS confirmed that prisoners had access to hand disinfectant that does not contain any alcohol “for security reasons”. He said that the products used were as effective as alcohol-based sanitiser.

However, both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned that hand sanitisers with an alcohol concentration of less than 60% are less effective and merely reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) also recommends the use of alcohol-based hand disinfectant due to its “superior microbiocidal activity”.

The provision of hand sanitiser is part of a broader strategy to contain and decrease the likelihood of the deadly coronavirus spreading into the prison network.

“The unique environment of a prison and the sheer numbers and diversity of people who pass through our prisons make vigilance around infection prevention and control absolutely necessary,” the IPS said in a statement.

Concerns were raised by one of the country’s top surgeons last week about the ability of the prison service to contain a potential outbreak of the virus due to overcrowding and poor sanitation standards.

“Prisoners in jail are more likely to contract the virus due to overcrowding and low levels of sanitisation,” said Sherif Sultan, president of the International Society for Vascular Surgery.

“[They] are quarantined from society but not from each other. They lack handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser, which is sometimes deemed contraband due to its alcohol content. Handcuffed people cannot cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze,” added the Galway-based consultant.

However, an IPS spokesman dismissed these concerns, stating that “99 percent” of cells have toilets and handwashing facilities, while prisoners also had access to showers on prison landings.

In the limited circumstances in which handcuffs have to be worn, these allow sufficient flexibility for inmates to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing in order to prevent spread of the disease, he added.

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Darragh McDonagh

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