Covid-19 contract tracing at jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere crucial to keeping out virus

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly


Portaoise prison

Portlaoise Prison

Covid-19 contract tracing of 230 suspect cases so far has been the central plank in the handling and prevention of the coronavirus among prisoners at jails Portlaoise other parts Ireland, according to the authors of a study which has been published by Oxford University.

the Irish Prison Service won international recognition for what researchers say may be a solution to strict social distancing in jails after sharing its experience with other countries through the submission of a paper to the World Health Organisation.

‘Establishing prison-led contact tracing to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons in Ireland’ was published on June 22 in the Journal of Public Health by Oxford University Press.

In a statement, the IPS said its National Infection Control Team, in collaboration with the National Quality Improvement (QI) team and Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland,  implemented a programme to develop and train in-prison contact tracing teams (CTTs).

It said CTTs were run by prison staff with experience of working with detainees, prison IT systems and CCTV. It added that Protocols for undertaking contact tracing for both detainee and staff cases of COVID-19 were established.

It found that the partnership approach, that included prisoners, with development of prison-led CTTs can provide an effective mechanism for contact tracing of Covid-19 cases within the prison setting.

The authors said that by taking a collaborative approach, the prison service and the national public health agency in Ireland were able to achieve the rapid creation and deployment of in-prison CTTs in every estate within the IPS. Working to agreed contact tracing protocols, CTTs have undertaken contact tracing for 230 cases within the IPS to date.

While the study found that Ireland's smaller prisons might restrict the use of the approach in other countries the authors did recommend the methods adopted.

"As countries look to explore alternatives to stringent social distancing measures, in-prison CTTs offer a potential solution to the significant resource burden of implementing contact tracing in prisons and other PPDs," it said.


The Irish Prison Service adds that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 amongst the prisoner cohort. It outlined a range of measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 into our prisons including:

- The introduction of a basic health check, including taking of temperatures for all persons, including staff, entering prisons from 29 March;
- Suspension of physical family visits, replaced by the introduction of video visits; 
- Quarantining for 14 days of all newly committed prisoners, in order to reduce the risk that a new committal who might be incubating the virus could spread Covid-19 to the general prison population;
- Isolation of suspected case or prisoner with symptoms to prevent the risk of transmission of infection;
“cocooning” of vulnerable prisoners including all prisoners aged 70 years or more or those that are deemed medically vulnerable;
- Comprehensive training for IPS staff and the provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across the prison estate;
- Strong communication with staff and prisoners, including two prison newsletters published weekly and regular Covid-19 information leaflets for prisoners and newsletters for staff regarding actions taken; and
- Establishment of a robust contract tracing model which has been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as best practice.
- The introduction of new electronic money transfer arrangements and An Post BillPay Service to allow families to lodge money to prisoner accounts.