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Prison Service

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 June 2021

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Ceisteanna (509)

Richard Boyd Barrett


509. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice if prisoners in Mountjoy Prison are disallowed from writing and receiving letters due to Covid-19 restrictions; if they are on 23-hour lock up as a result of same; if family members are allowed to bring personal items for prisoners; if counselling and rehabilitation services are suspended; when normal services will resume; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29335/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that an outbreak of Covid-19 was confirmed in Mountjoy Prison on 7 May, 2021. This was the most serious outbreak to occur within the prison system to date and resulted in 38 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the general prisoner population.

The outbreak was managed in line with the Prison Service Contingency Plan for the Management of Covid-19, which sets out the actions and measures to be implemented in such situations. The outbreak was managed by an Outbreak Control Team, led by the Director General, and was successfully contained, once identified, resulting in the return of a more normal regime on 21 May, 2021.

I am advised by the Prison Service that prisoners continue to send and receive post throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. During the mass testing process which occurs during an outbreak, however, all outgoing post is suspended.

During the outbreak in Mountjoy Prison, incoming post continued to be accepted, was reviewed by the Censor’s Office and delivered as normal. I am also pleased to advise the Deputy that as the prison has exited from the outbreak regime, the outgoing postal services within the prison are again operating as normal.

With regard to prisoner property, I am also advised that, due to infection control restrictions, and the fact that physical visits remained suspended, it is currently the case that family members cannot drop prisoner property off at the prison. Property is only accepted by post and all property is quarantined for seven days before distribution to prisoners.

In accordance with the Contingency Plan, in situations where there is a positive case in the general prison population, all prisoner movement in a prison is restricted while testing, contact tracing and assessment of the risk of the spread of the infection continues. Prisoners involved in the provision of services within the prison (kitchen, laundry etc.) continue to work with an enhanced level of PPE providing they are not a close contact of any confirmed case. Prisoners are fed and medicated at their door and are permitted to leave their cell in a controlled manner to make telephone calls.

Once the results of first round testing of all prisoners and all staff are received, any prisoners with negative test results have a degree of regime restored which strives to meet the minimum out of cell time provision of two hours. Positive prisoners and their close contacts are isolated or quarantined in accordance with HSE guidance.

The measures implemented by the Prison Service have impacted the traditional manner of service delivery by the Psychology and Addiction Counselling Services. Notwithstanding the challenges imposed by managing traditionally close-contact services during a pandemic, it is important to note that these services have not been suspended at anytime to date. The Prison Service continues to provide a range of therapeutic, support and counselling services to prisoners. The primary forms of counselling are provided by the Prison Service Psychology Service and the Merchant’s Quay Ireland Addiction Counselling Service. These services have remained in place throughout the pandemic.

The restrictions imposed by Covid-19 have required the development of new ways of working to support prisoners. These prisoner support services have adapted working arrangements to respond innovatively to maximise opportunities for prisoner engagement by employing a combination of mediums including telephony, video-link and one-to-one contact, where deemed clinically necessary.