Prison Inspector criticises use of solitary confinement to contain Covid-19

Prison Service rejects recommendations that inmates be granted more time outdoors

Irish Prison management has rejected recommendations from the Inspector of Prisons that quarantining inmates be granted at least one hour a day in the open air.

Across several reports, Inspector Patricia Gilheaney criticised the use of solitary confinement to prevent the spread of the virus within the prison system and raised concerns about its impact on inmates' mental health.

She made 60 recommendations to the Irish Prison Service (IPS) following her office's inspections of Cork, Portlaoise and Shelton Abbey Prisons which focused specifically on Covid-19.

According to the newly released inspection reports, the IPS rejected seven of these recommendations.


In July 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic, the Government amended the Prison Rules to allow a prison governor to suspend “physical recreation, exercise or training” to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Since then prisons have been placed into lockdown on several occasions to prevent the spread of Covid. All new prisoners must also undergo up to 14 days quarantine to prevent them introducing the virus into a prison from the community.

Ms Gilheaney raised concerns that quarantining prisoners are being kept in “de-facto” solitary confinement “as they were confined for 23 hours or more each day.”

Ms Gilheaney said that two hours of day of “meaningful human contact” must be facilitated for quarantining prisoners. The IPS rejected this recommendation, citing the need to keep prisons free of the virus.

It said prisoners in quarantine have their doors open twice per day and are visited by senior officers, medical staff and chaplains.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times