The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has confirmed that as of 23 November 2021, a total of 277 positive cases of Covid-19 had been identified among the prisoner population since March 2020.
The average prison population during that 18-month period was just under 4000.
Of those 277 cases, approximately 112 were associated with persons who tested positive for Covid-19 prior to being committed to custody.
The Minister also confirmed that for the greater part of 2020, there were not a single incidence of Covid-19 in the Irish prison system.
To date, only one death of a prisoner diagnosed with Covid-19 has been recorded, although there have been a number of hospitalisations.
No information was provided by the Minister on whether or not the prisoner had underlying health conditions, or what the persons age was.
Minister McEntee said the low incidence level of the virus in prisons was due in large part to the implementation of a wide range of measures that were introduced to address the risks facing the prison service including the introduction of an executive clinical lead and a head of infection control.
It was further noted by the Minister that “there has been an understanding in recent times that we cannot keep people under 24-hour lockdown. When we were in level 5 lockdown, the lockdown in prisons was also very severe. It meant there were no in-person visits and many educational programmes ceased. There has been a move away from that because there is an awareness that we must live with Covid-19.”
The impact of restrictions on in-person visits has been raised this week by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).
The IPRT pointed to a Parliamentary Question on the matter from Dublin TD Joan Collins. The ILPT say that the reply to the PQ from Minister McEntee highlights the impact of pandemic-related restrictions in prisons on children’s access to their mams, dads, and other family members following an estimated 80% decrease in in-person visits by children in 2020.
This means that while a total of 11,079 children physically visited an adult in prison in 2020, only 2,238 children physically visited an adult in prison in 2021.