13 Aug 2022

Visitors to Portlaoise and other prisons warned they face ejection over new Covid-19 visiting rules

Vistors advised to bring umbrellas due to likely delays

coronavirus covid-19

New rules for people visiting Portlaosie and other jails

Visitors to prisons in Portlaoise and other places in Ireland will have to bring their umbrellas and may be ejected if they do not follow mask-wearing Covid-19 rules under new restrictions to visits which come into force next week as prison visits recommence.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has published a detailed guided for families and others preparing to pay inmates a visit from Monday, July 20. Visits were stopped in March under the lockdown.

There are on average 4,500 visits to Irish prisons but the IPS has said that capacity as visiting resumes has had to be reduced due to Covid-19. 

The question and answer style guide sets out the measures in place at jails around the country. It warns that visitors must plan for delayed entry to jails.

"Unfortunately, there will be delays accessing the prison and the visiting room. Please expect them. Temperature checking, and health screening, combined with social distancing is likely to lead to delays in entering the prison, which may mean you to have to queue outdoors for a short period. Please arrive in plenty of time to reduce the risk of a delay interfering with your scheduled visit time.

"Please bring a rain jacket and umbrella to protect yourself from the weather," says the guide.

The IPS provides visitors with advice on what they need to know before a physical visit.

"Visitors to prison are not permitted to wear their own personal face mask in the visiting room. All visitors will be provided with a new face-covering on entry to the prison and will be required to wear it for the duration of the visit. Failure to comply may result in your visit being suspended and you will be asked to leave the prison.

"Hand sanitizer stations will be available when you enter the prison and before you enter the visiting room. In order to prevent the potential spread of infection all visits will be behind clear screens and visitors will be required to wear a face masks at all times.

"No physical contact between you and the person in custody will be permitted. Given the risks of human contact spreading the coronavirus, all of our visits will be screened.  This means that there will no human contact during your visit. Failure to follow this instruction you will be asked to leave the prison and your visit will be terminated," said the IPS.

IPS says there will be security screening.

"Yes, security screening will be in full operation for visitors entering our closed prisons. Airport-style walk-through detectors and X-ray scanners are installed in each closed prison. The Canine Unit may also be there with sniffer or drug dogs.

"The Irish Prison Service has enhanced the fight against drug-trafficking by the introduction of airport-style swabbing for drug residues. Drug-swabbing machines will be present and all visitors will be tested before they may enter the visiting room.," it says.

The IPS says visitors will not will not be allowed to enter prisons if you are carrying: mobile phones and/or chargers, any item which could be used as a weapon, particularly sharp items, Proscribed or prescription drugs.

The service outlines measures to speed up the security screening process and reduce the amount of contact with our security

It suggests that jewellery, belts, watches, possessions that contain metal and prescription drugs should be left outside prison.

Visitors will also need to have a health screen check before entering. Everyone must be health screened and temperature checked before entry.

Visitors will be asked to answer a number of health-related questions to identify potential risk factors for Covid-19 infection. 

If your temperature is 37.5 degrees Celsius or above when measured, you will not be allowed to enter the prison and you will be advised to seek medical advice. 

"Please do not argue the result of the test. We screen every person who enters and it is a critical factor in identifying people who may be at risk of carrying the virus. If you fail the temperature check or health screening process, you may also
need to consult your doctor. This is done with the best interest of people in our care and staff in mind," it says.

IPS says information from screening directly is protected under data protection legislation. However, staff performing the screening may be interviewed as part of a contact tracing activity and may share information about visitors that they recall as required under public health requirements.

Prison management says the operation and frequency of visits will be kept under review guided both by public health
advice and our desire to support as much contact as possible between people in custody and their relatives and friends.

It adds that detailed information for relatives/friends in relation to the operation of visits will be published on the Irish Prison Service website in the coming weeks.

Phase 2 of visiting restriction relaxation starts on Monday, August 17.

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