Compulsory cocooning as result of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health difficulties of the prisoners involved, a briefing document by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons and Maynooth University has shown.

The document collates findings from journals from April which had been distributed to prisoners who were cocooning due to age or medical condition.

86 journals were sent to the cocooning prisoners in seven prisons by the Red Cross. 72 journals were returned with 49 written in.

The practice of compulsory cocooning ended on 29 June but those who wish to continue may do so voluntarily.

Many of the issues documented by both male and female prisoners were being locked in cells for long hours, missing recreational and learning activities, and deteriorating physical and mental health.

One journal entry highlighted that one prisoner had spent 30 continuous hours in a cell and had only been allowed out to the yard once on two consecutive days. The entry continued that such a long time in a small cell was "very hard to do" and that they missed getting out three times a day "as I liked the exercise and the fresh air after being stuck in...".

The briefing note suggested that timetables could be adapted to increase time in yards.

It also noted that the absence of social contact was felt by those who were cocooning.

One journal entry read: "My punishment by the courts was prison; now doing my punishment cocooning is like doing my time in solitary confinement. Being punish[ed] now for having a chronic [x] disease. […]"

The document recommends that the Irish Prison Service find ways to "identify and respond to trauma among people in custody, staff and other stakeholders caused by the pandemic".

Last month, the Irish Prison Service submitted a paper to the World Health Organisation as a model of best practice for keeping Covid-19 out of prisons as there had been no cases of Covid-19 in any Irish prison.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the findings of the document need to be "acted on now".

It is calling for the implementation of the recommendations; publication of data on the lengths of time prisoners are held in confinement; strengthening of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons through resources and legislation; and increased emphasis by the courts on alternatives to prison custody.

Welcoming the publication, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: "This report tells us that cocooning, in its current form, is unsustainable in the case of a second wave of Covid-19.

"It is important now that the recommendations are acted on, and that measures are taken to ensure prisoner numbers do not rise again.

"Importantly, the report recognises that many of the recommendations have wider application to the hundreds of men held in restricted regimes for reasons not related to the pandemic."