Doing Hard Time during Covid-19? Fred Bassett asks the question. Should a person be in prison in these horrible times aged 90?

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Prisoners denied showers for 14 days due to Covid quarantine

 4th August 2021

INMATES IN IRISH prisons have been denied access to showers for up to 14 days because of restrictions introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19.a building with a tiled floor© Alamy Stock Photo

Four inspection reports published today shed light on how Irish prisons are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

The reports from the Inspector of Prisons reveal that prisoners in quarantine and isolation in Limerick, Wheatfield, Mountjoy and Cloverhill prisons are being denied their right to a shower and are not being provided with sufficient meaningful human contact. 

Solitary confinement is also being used as a measure to prevent transmission of Covid-19. 

In its reports on Mountjoy and Cloverhill, the Inspector of Prisons expressed concern that Covid-19 has allowed a sense of complacency to set in across the prisons, allowing increased restrictions to become the new norm.

The report on Mountjoy noted that it was explained to the Inspectorate that the disinfectant costs for the showers were cost-prohibitive because an external cleaning agency was contracted to decontaminate post-Covid-19 exposure areas.

“A low standard of physical survival has been introduced; one devoid of substance and meaningful interaction,” the Inspector added.

The report on Limerick prison noted that prisoners were not permitted to shower for the duration of time they were in quarantine, potentially a period of up to 14 days.

During that time the only access to clean running water was from a small in-cell basin. Prisoners also had no access to fresh clothing or post during their quarantine period.

The reports note that inspectors repeatedly encountered substandard bedding and prisoners having to wear the same clothes for long periods of time. Female prisoners could not access certain sanitary products. 

To facilitate social distancing, meals were often served at very close intervals, leaving a period of 16 hours between the evening meal and breakfast.

The inspectors also noted other persistent issues in Irish prisons, including the continuation of “slopping out” and the provision of triple occupancy cells in Cloverhill prison, which do not meet internal standards for minimum cell size.

Responding to the reports, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) noted the effect of Covid-related restrictions on prisoners has been particularly harsh.

“The Inspectorate’s views are clear: solitary confinement should not be used as a means to prevent transmission of Covid-19 in prisons,” IPRT spokesperson Molly Joyce said.

It is therefore of particular concern to IPRT that the Irish Prison Service did not accept the Inspectorate’s recommendations to the effect that all people in quarantine or isolation must be facilitated with at least two hours of meaningful human contact, and at least one hour in the open air, each day.

“Human rights are not optional and holding people on long lock-up must not become normalised,” the campaign group noted.

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice noted that these are the first public prison inspection reports since May 2017.

It added that the first of the reports were submitted to the Department of Justice in early May and have only been published today, three months later.

“During a period of crisis, it is even more important that inspections are published in the most timely manner so prison procedures and conditions can be closely monitored. Future full inspections need to be published promptly until the Office’s powers are expanded,” it said.

Fred Bassett is concerned about these transgressions to people who are living in confined spaces with their basic freedoms removed and to make matters worse will not have had visits from family members for over 18 months now. To the Jesuit Centre of Faith and Justice or to whoever has it within their capacity to rectify a breach of basic human rights, based on the advanced age of the person in prison. Having written to a politician who referred me to the Irish Penal Reform Trust given my concerns about a person who as far as I can establish is 90 years old and in prison. When one reads the foregoing, I have decided to re-activate this perceived injustice and am asking if there is any law or method by which a person who reaches the age of 90 can in exceptional circumstances serve out his sentence at his home, albeit signing off at the local Garda station.

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