Covid outbreaks continue to worsen in prison system

There are currently 120 cases among prisoners and staff nationwide

The impact of Covid-19 on the courts and prison system is expected to continue this week as the Irish Prison Service (IPS) deals with worsening outbreaks in three locations.

There are currently 71 positive cases of Covid-19 among prisoners and another 49 cases samong staff.

Dublin's Cloverhill prison is the most severely affected, with 37 positive cases among staff and prisoners.

Hospital Report

The outbreak has limited the IPS’s ability to bring prisoners to and from court. Cloverhill is a remand prison, meaning inmates have regular court dates. While many of these have been facilitated via video-link, prisoners are still required to be physically present for certain types of hearings, including trials.

Last week the trial of a Cloverhill prisoner was adjourned after a court heard he would be required to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) for the duration. The judge ruled this would be a risk to the man’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Second round

Prisoners in Cloverhill are currently undergoing a second round of mass testing. Strict movement restrictions are in place, including on showers and exercise. Some of these have been relaxed for prisoners who have tested negative.

Outbreaks have also been reported in the Midlands Prison, where 47 inmates have tested positive, and in Mountjoy Prison.

There has been a 44 per cent increase in the total positive Covid-19 tests in the prison system from last month to this month.

On Sunday, IPS director of rehabilitation and care Fergal Black told that vaccine uptake in most prisons has been about 85 per cent.

However it has been lower in Cloverhill and Castlerea prisons.

"Notwithstanding the efforts of our clinical staff, peer educators and others, we have witnessed a difficulty with certain cohorts within those prisons," Mr Black told RTÉ. "It remains a challenge, but overall, the Irish Prison Service vaccine take-up would compare exceptionally well with our colleagues in other jurisdictions where you have persons in custody."

Last week the IPS recorded the first death of a prisoner with Covid-19. The man, who was serving a life sentence for murder, had been suffering from a terminal illness and died in hospital after contracting the virus.