Four prison officers now have Covid-19 after two new cases

Two more prison officers, including a second officer in Cork Prison, have tested positive for Covid-19 — bringing to four the total number of prison staff infected, the Irish Examiner has learned.
Four prison officers now have Covid-19 after two new cases

Two more prison officers, including a second officer in Cork Prison, have tested positive for Covid-19 — bringing to four the total number of prison staff infected, the Irish Examiner has learned.

The other new case is a prison officer in Mountjoy Prison, adding to a previous case in Cork Prison and Portlaoise Prison.

So far, no prisoners across the 13 jails have tested positive for the virus.

In relation to prisoners, up-to-date figures show:

  • A total of 142 prisoners have been isolated;
  • 82 are currently in isolation, in their own cells, in special isolation areas;
  • 60 have been cleared from isolation;

Sources said prisoners in isolation have their cells opened just twice a day, for breakfast and at lunchtime, when they get both their hot meal and their tea.

It is not clear how many officers nationally are in self-isolation, but it is thought 18 staff in Cork are, up from four officers two weeks ago.

In other developments:

  • video phone call facilities are being rolled out across prisons to allow inmates to speak to family members, replacing physical visits;
  • contact tracing system is being brought in;

Under new regimes, prisoners are released for recreation in smaller numbers with only half of landings taking breaks at the same time.

Sources said with some inmates it is very difficult to enforce social distancing.

The IPS has released 292 prisoners since March 11 under measures to reduce the prison population and improve infection control.

Sources said it has “nearly exhausted” its ability to use temporary release.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said “the most urgent action” now is to further reduce numbers, saying it is the only way to achieve physical distancing.

IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said the IPS must take all measures to ensure that isolation of prisoners does not have “long-term adverse consequences on mental health”.

She said prisoners should have a phone to maintain contact with family, prison psychology and other supports.

She said they are also concerned at the “cocooning” of elderly prisoners and those with compromised health, saying anything more than 22 hours in a cell is solitary confinement.

She said those who are not symptomatic, but categorised as highly vulnerable due to age or infirmity, must get a minimum of two hours’ human contact and one hour of fresh air daily.

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on
www.irishexaminer.com/podcasts

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence