Coronavirus Covid-19 prison releases under discussion to stem spread

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

coronavirus covid-19

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

Coronavirus Covid-19 talks are underway that may see the release some prisoners from jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere.

The Irish Prison Service is in discussion with the Department of Justice ahead of the implementation of prison visit restrictions on Saturday. RTÉ has reported that the services wants to release up to 200 inmates.

"The primary factor in the consideration of any prisoner for early release is public safety and no prisoner would be granted temporary release who poses an undue risk to public safety," it said.

The Irish Prison Service said no decision has been made and other measures are under consideration.

It said Covid-19 in prisons presents "significant challenges for prison management in terms of controlling the spread of the virus amongst staff and prisoners, and the provision of appropriate medical treatment to affected persons".

Latest published figures show that Irish jails were 97% occupied on March 6 with 4,193 in custody. The Midlands Prison in Portlaoise had 878 in custody but just 875 beds. Both Limerick and Cork prisons were over capacity. The Irish Prison Service as not published new figures since March 6. They are normally updated daily.

The following measures in respect of visitors to prisoners are being from Saturday 14th March until otherwise advised:

- Visits will be restricted to 1 visit per prisoner per week.
- A limit of 2 adults per visit will apply.
- No under 18s will be admitted.

Normal social distancing as advised by public health to apply including:

- no kissing
- no handshaking
- sneezing and coughing into elbow sleeve
- all visits conducted at a distance of 1 meter

Visits will be time-limited to 15 minutes per visit.

Prisons will operate to a daily maximum of 80% of their visiting capacity.

Visitors that appear to have flu-like symptoms may be refused entry.

The Irish Prison Service says it will continue to monitor the situation closely and act in line with Government and NPHET recommendations.

"We recognise that such a step may be challenging for families and friends, but we are also cognisant of our priority and responsibility to protect the well-being of those in our care and those in our employment within the prison. The virus can be spread through community transmission and, within the confines of a prison, there is obviously an increased risk of a rapid spread of infection.

"The Irish Prison Service are appealing that members of the public carefully consider visiting the prison and refrain from visiting the Prisons unless absolutely necessary," it said.

More here on the Irish Prison Service preparations