The prison houses around 100 of the country’s sex offenders and in a new report, prisoners hit out at the conditions imposed on those placed in isolation or quarantine during Covid-19.
That is according to the new report by the Office of the Inspector of Prisoners, Ms Patricia Gilheaney on conditions at Arbour Hill during the pandemic.
One prisoner told inspectors “no shower or change of clothes, it was horrendous” while another “(Lack of) showering has had a huge impact on mental health.”
Another prisoner told inspectors “I felt horrible, I actually can’t describe it properly,” while another stated “they don’t realise how that person behind that door is feeling”.
The 138 bed prison was hit by an outbreak of Covid-19 in February of this year where 13 prisoners tested positive for Covid-19 and a further 14 prisoners entered isolation as a result of being a close contact. Eight members of staff also tested positive for Covid-19.
The prison is more vulnerable to Covid outbreaks as the age profile of prisoners is older than other prisons - on the day one of the inspection, 35% of the prison population were aged 61 years or older.
The inspectors record that many of the prisoners in quarantine and isolation during Covid-19 “spoke negatively of having to eat, wash clothes, bathe and use the toilet facilities in a confined space”.
The report states: “Prisoners expressed feelings of frustration, anxiety and anger when reflecting on their time in quarantine/isolation.”
The Inspection Team was informed by prisoners that, during quarantine/isolation, the cell door was only opened to deliver food, for medical reasons, and to enable prisoners to make six-minute phone calls.
Food was delivered to the cell door in Kraft boxes and prisoners were also provided with care packs prepared by prison staff which contained toiletries, puzzles, reading materials, and some confectionary items.
Regarding the impact of quarantine/isolation measures, one prison staff member told inspectors “prisoners were stressed and frustrated, I can’t lie.”
A member of the Healthcare Team referred to the outbreak period as particularly concerning and stated that at times “things became field hospital like.”
One prisoner who had tested positive for COVID-19 stated that after he was released from quarantine “I was given paper clothes, paper underwear.”
At the close-out meeting on May 17th last, senior management acknowledged there were issues with the prison laundry at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak.
They stated that this issue was due to staff shortages in the laundry team which created a backlog in the laundry service.
As part of its recommendations, the Inspectors recommended that prisoners in quarantine/isolation must be permitted to shower, if not daily, at a minimum, two times in a seven day period.
In response prison management stated that “cells are not equipped with showers and, due to current Infection control restrictions, showering while in quarantine is not feasible due to the high risk it poses to prisoners and staff”.
Prison management pointed out that “the cells do however facilitate in-cell sanitation. All prisoners confined to their cell for the purpose of quarantine have access to hot water and soap to maintain adequate hygiene.
The report stated that overall, the Inspector of Prisons is concerned that Covid-19 has significantly impacted on the ability of prisoners at Arbour Hill to effectively engage with rehabilitation services.
At Arbour Hill, inspectors recorded how prisoners have set up prisoner-led group, the Initiative Hub to collectively raise concerns within the prison.
Some of the issues raised by the Initiative Hub include the lack of an open prison and the lack of early release opportunities for prisoners who have committed sexual offences.