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Guiney, Ciara (2016) Prisoners and infectious diseases. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 59, Autumn 2016, pp. 12-13.

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The Irish Penal Reform Trust launched a new report, Improving prison conditions by strengthening the monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and harm reduction: mapping report –  Ireland, on 23 June.1 The report forms part of the EU co-funded project, Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening Infectious Disease Monitoring, which was implemented under the lead of Harm Reduction International.2 The project aims to reduce the ill-treatment of persons in detention and improve prison conditions through improved and standardised monitoring and inspection mechanisms on HIV, HCV and TB. This broader research informed the development of a user-friendly tool3 to help generate better informed, more consistent, and sustained monitoring of these diseases and harm reduction in prisons by national, regional and international human rights-based prison monitoring mechanisms.


The Irish report presented the findings of a national mapping exercise carried out to investigate available standards relating to human rights, infectious diseases and prison monitoring. It described the evolution in Ireland of the healthcare and prison systems; illicit drug use and the related legislative and policy context; and, human rights, particularly in the context of judicial care. It then explored the situation in relation to infectious diseases among prisoners. Information was collected through a literature review, analysis of public documents, Freedom of Information requests, and consultation with experts in the prison service.


Among the key findings was that the Irish Prison Service’s (IPS) provision for HIV and hepatitis C prevention measures did not meet the standards of best practice models found elsewhere in Europe and North America. Furthermore, the IPS did not fulfil its stated objective of providing primary healthcare (prevention, treatment and health rehabilitation) to offenders of at least an equivalent standard to that available to the general population. The authors argued that the IPS’s response to the HIV and hepatitis C crisis fell ‘far short’ of this.


In terms of surveillance, they noted that while the Health Protection Surveillance Centre collected and collated data on notifiable diseases nationally, it was not possible for the authors to distinguish between those identified in the prison setting and the general population. They maintained that while some progress had been made in the adoption of monitoring mechanisms for infectious diseases in Irish prisons, it was less than sufficient or consistent in meeting the standards of human rights-based prison monitoring.


The report identified a number of monitoring mechanisms for Irish prisons. These include the Inspector of Prisons, prison visiting committees, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. All of these had been critical of conditions in Irish prisons. The authors also concluded that Ireland’s ongoing failure to have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture presented a threat to the protection of the human rights of prisoners in Ireland.


Presentations were also made at the launch by Dr Joe Barry, Clinical Professor in Public Health Medicine, Trinity College Dublin; Fergal Black, Director of Care and Rehabilitation at the Irish Prison Service; Emmett Conroy, prison nurse with the Irish Red Cross prison programme; and Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons.


1 MacNamara C, Varley L, Mannix McNamara P (2016) Improving prison conditions by strengthening the monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and harm reduction: mapping report – Ireland. Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25635

2 Sander G (2016) HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction in Prisons: Human rights, minimum standards and monitoring at the European and international level London: Harm Reduction International.

3 Sander G (2016) Monitoring HIV, HCV, TB and harm reduction in prisons: a human rights-based tool to prevent ill treatment. London: Harm Reduction International.

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