About 10 per cent of the population of Arbour Hill prison has tested positive for Covid-19, the largest single outbreak in the prison system since the start of the pandemic.
Twelve inmates out of a total of 115 tested positive for the virus on Wednesday and Thursday. The number of infected staff members has not been disclosed but it is understood about 10 have tested positive.
Since March 2020, a total of 83 prisoners across the prison estate have contracted the virus. Irish prisons managed to keep the virus out of facilities until August 2020. Since then, there have been periodic outbreaks across the country’s prisons, despite strict internal quarantine and additional lockdown measures.
The Midlands Prison, the largest in the country, is also currently dealing with an outbreak. Ten prisoners and at least 11 staff have tested positive there this week.
There is particular concern about the Arbour Hill outbreak as the facility has a much older prisoner population compared to other facilities. Most inmates in Arbour Hill are serving sentences for sexual offences and are therefore not eligible for temporary release.
Some of these inmates are in their 70s and 80s and many have underlying conditions which may make them more vulnerable to the virus.
About half of the prisoners in Arbour Hill are currently confined to their cells in an effort to stem the outbreak.
All staff and prisoners in Arbour Hill are to be tested again this week “as a precaution” the IPS said in a statement.
“Arbour Hill Outbreak Control Team continues to engage with prison management to oversee appropriate actions to mitigate against further possible spread of the disease within the prison.
“The Irish Prison Service is working closely with HSE Public Health with regard to the management of the current outbreak including arrangements for the mass testing of all staff and prisoners in Arbour Hill Prison.”
Family members were cautioned that it may be difficult to access video visits or phone calls with prisoners in the short term due to the “more restricted regime”.
In-person visits to prisons have been suspended for the duration of Level Five.
Separately, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is to start carrying out Covid-19-specific inspections of Irish prisons over the coming months to ensure human rights and safety compliance. Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney made the announcement at a seminar on Thursday organised by the Irish Penal Reform Trust.