First death of inmate from Covid-19 confirmed as prisons battle outbreaks

Outbreaks in Cloverhill, Mountjoy and Midlands are causing significant disruption to courts system

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has recorded the first death of an inmate due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

It comes as the IPS battles outbreaks in three prisons which have resulted in significant disruption to the prison and courts system.

The prisoner had previously been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He contracted Covid-19 last week and was transferred from the Midlands Prison to hospital for treatment before dying on Monday.

The IPS said it now faces an “unprecedented challenge in continuing to keep prisoners safe from infection” due to the spread of the delta variant in the community.

Restrictions have been reintroduced in an effort to stem the spread but the IPS said it is continuing to facilitate family contact when possible.

"The Irish Prison Service can confirm a death in custody in the Midlands Prison on the 15/11/2021," a spokesman said. "All deaths in custody are investigated by the Irish Prison Service, the Inspector of Prisons and An Garda Síochána, where circumstances warrant. The cause of death is determined by the Coroner office."

It is currently managing three Covid-19 outbreaks, in Cloverhill, Midlands and Mountjoy prisons. At least 59 prisoners have tested positive for the virus, including 41 in the Midlands and 17 in Cloverhill.

This week a prisoner in the low-security progression unit of Mountjoy tested positive, leading management to order tests for all staff and inmates. Mass testing of Cloverhill Prisoners is also ongoing.

“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.”

‘No showers, no exercise’

The IPS said it has “been hugely successful” in protecting the prison community to date and has successfully managed 16 outbreaks since October 2016.

The outbreaks have also had significant impact on the courts system, with the governor of Cloverhill Prison telling High Court judge on Wednesday that the IPS has entered a "silo mentality", with no inter-prison transfers happening and his own prison not producing prisoners to "any court in the land".

Cloverhill is where the majority of remand prisoners are housed.

Governor Anthony Harris said the "majority" of Cloverhill has closed down, with all but essential service prisoners "behind doors" due to "a serious outbreak" of Covid-19.

“There are no showers, no exercises, no anything,” Governor Anthony Harris told the court.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott had invited a senior IPS member to attend the Central Criminal Court to clarify the ongoing disruption to criminal cases after a prisoner could not be produced for trial on Tuesday.

Mr Harris said that mass testing is taking place on prisoners and staff in the prison. Staff who are asymptomatic contacts are “the danger” to the prison, he said, and explained that when anyone comes into Cloverhill Prison they must go into quarantine.

The governor said there were outbreaks every two or three hours with staff ringing the prison to say that they have had a positive test.