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
Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.