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Leah Farrell/

Prison service facing 'unprecedented challenge' as it manages three Covid-19 outbreaks

There are at least 63 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among inmates.

THE IRISH PRISON Service has said it is facing an “unprecedented challenge” in continuing to keep prisoners safe from Covid-19 infection as it manages three outbreaks involving at least 63 cases.

The first death of a prisoner with Covid-19 was confirmed this week, as the Prison Service deals with outbreaks at Mountjoy, Cloverhill and Midlands prisons.

In Cloverhill there are 16 confirmed cases among prisoners and 46 inmates at the Midlands prison have been confirmed as Covid-positive. One prisoner in the Progression Unit at Mountjoy Prison has tested positive and all staff and prisoners in the unit are now being tested. 

Outbreak Control Teams (OCT) have been established in each of the location to agree and oversee the appropriate actions taken to mitigate against further possible spread of the disease within those prisons, including wider testing.

The Prison Service said it had been “hugely successful” in protecting the prison community from Covid in the earlier stages of the pandemic.

“However, given the current level of prevalence of the virus in the community the Irish Prison Service now faces an unprecedented challenge in continuing to keep prisoners safe from infection,” it said.

“To date, the service has successfully managed 16 outbreaks since October 2020, limiting the spread of the infection in a number of our prisons.”

The prison service said “a more restricted regime has been introduced” to help prevent further spread of infection.

This may impact on access to video visits and phone calls in the short term for prisoners in precautionary isolation, it said. The IPS said it is working to ensure that it can continue to facilitate family contact as far as possible.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has expressed concern about the outbreaks and called for an acceleration of the booster rollout in prisons. 

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the IPRT said courts should also “consider risk when making decisions to remand persons to prison or when handing down short sentences”.

“The emphasis should be on alternatives to prison,” she told The Journal.

“The IPS and Department of Justice should review groups eligible for early release and decisions to release a person should be based on current public safety risk and health, not the category of offence.”

The IPRT has also expressed concern about restricted regimes in prisons as a result of outbreaks and the potential isolation of inmates from their families.

“There should be an increase in communications with men and women in prison and families outside, who will be very concerned,” she said.

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