Inspector of Prisons criticises delay with just 2.1% of inmates vaccinated

Protest at Portlaoise Prison continues against slow rollout of inoculation programme

 

The “principle of equivalence” is not being adhered to in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations in prisons, the Inspector of Prisons has said.

Vaccination of the State’s 3,800 prisoners is moving at a significantly slower pace than the general population, with just 2.1 per cent having received a dose by the end of May.

Meanwhile, a protest is continuing in Portlaoise Prison by inmates angry over the delayed rollout of the vaccines.

The protest involves a group of about 20 prisoners in the republican wing of the high-security facility refusing to return to their cells for several hours after lights out every night.

It has been ongoing since Friday and has resulted in officers having to work significantly longer shifts.

Just 82 prisoners have been vaccinated. This includes all those in the over-70s category and a small number deemed medically vulnerable. By contrast, more than 50 per cent of eligible adults in the general population have received at least one shot of the vaccines.

The prison population skews considerably younger than the general population, but contains a much high proportion of medically vulnerable people, including inmates with immunosuppressive conditions.

About 14 per cent of the prison population are aged over 50, of which just 15 per cent have received a vaccine.

In remarks to The Irish Times, Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney said her office had already expressed concerns regarding the pace of vaccinations in prison settings and would continue to do so.

In her reports to the Minister for Justice on the matter, Ms Gilheaney’s office has stated that “as prisoners live in congregated settings, they should be prioritised for vaccination”.

The principle of equivalence states that prisoners should be entitled to the same quality of healthcare as the wider population.

“In line with the principle of equivalence, it is our view that people in prison, should at a minimum be provided with equal provision of healthcare, without discrimination based on grounds of their legal status,” Ms Gilheaney said.

“We have also reported that the principle of equivalence is not being adhered to as related to Covid-19 vaccinations.”

Regarding a “withdrawal of goodwill” by prison officers in April in protest against the delay in vaccinating staff, the inspector said she and a colleague had witnessed the disruption this caused when visiting Cloverhill Prison on April 20th.

She said she shared this experience with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee in a letter the next day.

“As you are aware, this office has no role in relation to the operation and management of prisons. However, as the national prisons’ oversight body we will continue to report openly to the Minister on our findings.”

About 360 staff have so far been vaccinated, mostly those involved in prisoner escorts to hospitals.

The Irish Prison Service had said the rollout of vaccines in prisons is a matter for the HSE and that vaccinations were being carried out by the National Ambulance Service.

In response to queries, a spokeswoman for the HSE said it was “currently finalising plans with the Irish Prison Service for the vaccination of remaining prisoners. We expect to have this finalised in the coming days.”