Covid-19 prevention facemasks and perspex screens during prison visits to jails in Portlaoise

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

coronavirus covid-19

On left Caron McCaffrey, IPS Director General and on right Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan unveiling a new Staff Memorial Garden at Portlaoise Prison

Visitors must wear facemasks and sit behind perspex plans under a phased recommencement of physical family visits to prisons in Portlaoise and other parts of the country according to the Irish Prison Service (IPS).

Following public health advice, and owing to the restriction on movements announced by the Government in an effort to curtail the spread of Covid-19,  physical family visits to prison were suspended on March 27 and replaced with a new system of video visits.

The IPS issued a statement on the reason for the relaxation on measures which have meant no prisoner has contracted the disease in Ireland.

"The Irish Prison Service fully appreciates how important contact with family is to prisoners and has been committed to the early return of physical family visits as soon as it was considered safe to do so.

"In line with the Government Roadmap, and with infection control in mind, the Irish Prison Service has completed a comprehensive risk assessment on the return of physical prison visits.  The Service has identified the necessary measures, which are currently being progressed, to ensure that family members and friends can return to physical visits to our prisons in a safe manner.

"In order to safely accommodate visitors and ensure compliance with social distancing requirements, in both our waiting areas and in the visiting areas, it has been necessary to limit the capacity and the frequency of visits at this time. Prior to Covid-19 over 4,500 visitors would have entered our prisons on a weekly basis. In order to ensure effective infection control and allow for appropriate social distancing, capacity in both waiting areas and visiting areas must be reduced," it said.

A statement said visits will recommence on a phased basis commencing on Monday, July 20 but movement through the phases will be subject to ongoing risk assessment and will take account latest public health advice, the range of Government restrictions in place and other factors including the prevailing transmission rate in the community.

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

Oxford University has published a paper on how the Irish Prison Service preventing outbreaks of Covid-19 in prisons in the Journal of Public health.

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.

Summary of Phases

Phase 1 – Return of Physical Family Visits (20 July 2020)

Physical visits will recommence with effect from Monday 20th July 2020.

- All prisoners will be entitled to receive one physical family visit per fortnight, of not more than 15 minutes duration.
- Prisoners may opt for two video visits if preferred.
- Physical visits during this phase will be limited to one adult person (over 18 years of age).
- Prisoners will also be able to avail of one video visit of not more than 15 minutes duration per fortnight.
- In order to prevent the potential spread of infection all visits will be behind perspex screens and visitors will be required to wear a face-covering at all times.
- No physical contact between prisoners and family members will be permitted.
 

Phase 2 –  Monday 17th August 2020

- All prisoners will be entitled to receive one physical family visit per fortnight, of not more than 15 minutes duration.
- Physical visits during this phase will be limited to two people of which one visitor may be a child.
- Prisoners may continue to avail of one video visit per fortnight of not more than 15 minutes
- Prisoners may continue to opt to receive a video visit in lieu of a physical visit
- Visitors will continue to be required to wear a face-covering
- In order to prevent the potential spread of infection all visits will be behind perspex screens and visitors will be required to wear a face-covering at all times
 -No physical contact between prisoners and family members will be permitted.
 

The IPS says the operation and frequency of visits will be kept under ongoing review guided both by Public Health advice and a desire to support as much contact as possible between the prisoner and their families.

It says detailed information for families in relation to the operation of visits will be published on the Irish Prison Service website www.irishprisons.ie in the coming weeks.