Less than 50% of Cloverhill prisoners vaccinated against Covid

Fewer than half of the inmates in one of the State’s largest prisons have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Cloverhill Prison in west Dublin is one of two prisons dealing with outbreaks of the disease and is currently under partial lockdown as a result.

Of its some 400 inmates, under 50 per cent have opted to take the vaccine. The average figure for the rest of the prison population is roughly 85 per cent while the figure for the Irish eligible population in general is about 92 per cent.

Cloverhill is a remand prison housing prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing. It also houses people detained on immigration matters.

Prison officials believe its low vaccination rate is partly down to the high number of non-nationals imprisoned there.

The CSO has found low vaccine uptake among several non-national communities in Ireland. According to its figures, just 44 per cent of central and eastern European people here were vaccinated as of the end of October.

Cloverhill prison also contains an outsized number of prisoners from hard-to-reach groups such as homeless people and those addicted to drugs, which may not have accessed the vaccine in the community before imprisonment.

Since the current lockdown was imposed on the prison earlier in the month, many inmates have expressed a desire to get vaccinated, sources said.

A second round of testing within the prison has just finished and management hopes the lockdown will be stood down this weekend. There are currently 16 positive cases in Cloverhill and another seven in the low-security progression unit at Mountjoy, which is also under partial lockdown.

The main part of Mountjoy is operating under a normal regime, the Irish Prison Service said. “Prisoners have access to physical visits and essential services, although services will likely be subject to some curtailment during the course of the outbreak and the associated Covid-19 staff testing programme.”

Another outbreak alert in the Midlands Prison was stood down last week.

There is also concern about the vaccination rate at Castlerea Prison in Roscommon where only about 70 per cent of inmates are vaccinated. There is currently no outbreak there.

About half of Castlerea’s 270 prisoners are members of the Traveller community, who officials say have been sometimes hesitant to get the vaccine. “We don’t know why really. It’s a problem we’re trying to deal with,” one source said.

An educational campaign on the vaccine’s safety and benefits has had some impact in improving the figure recently, it is understood.

Booster vaccine

The roll-out of the booster vaccine is also taking place in prisons on the same terms as in the community, with elderly and at-risk prisoners being prioritised.

The issue of Covid in prisons was raised on Thursday in the Dáil where Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said there had been 277 cases of the virus in the prison population since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Ms McEntee told Labour TD Duncan Smith that 112 prisoners had already tested positive for the virus before they were committed to prison.

She confirmed “there have been hospitalisations” and referring to the death of one prisoner with Covid, she said it was the first death in custody linked to the virus, “which was extremely distressing and upsetting for everyone working in the prison”. It is understood the prisoner who died was serving a life sentence for murder and had been suffering from a terminal illness.

Ms McEntee commended the prison service and said management and staff were all “working tirelessly” to try to combat the virus.

Mr Smith asked about the impact on access to the courts and the number of hospitalisations in the prison population. The Dublin Fingal TD stressed that “the intent of this question was a genuine update. It wasn’t a kind of ‘gotcha’ or anything like that, because our prison service has done a remarkable job since the start of the pandemic” in trying to keep the virus under control, he said.

The Minister, who confirmed there had been hospitalisations, told him the virus had affected the ability of the Courts Service to operate normally, and there had been greater use of information technology.

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