The Inspector of Prisons has found that some of the measures introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the prison system have had a disproportionate impact on inmates.
In its annual report for 2020 the Inspector says this has arisen from inmates lack of or limited human contact during the year, with time out of their cells either being curtailed or ceased.
The report highlights a number of issues including prisoners having no access to a shower for the duration of their time spent in quarantine, which in many cases was 14 days.
It says inmates were instead provided with a sponge and basin to maintain their personal hygiene.
It also points to difficulties with the video link communication system with calls experiencing many ongoing technical difficulties such as not connecting with the family member, calls dropping, insufficient video link locations and difficulties encountered in securing a time slot.
The report also notes many positives that have resulted from the response of the Irish Prison Service to the pandemic, from the reduction of the prison population to the roll out of multiple communication methods.
Inspector Patricia Gilheaney said she hopes that the excellent initiatives and work undertaken by the Prison Service will be retained going forward and has also urged it to consider the need to further decrease the numbers in prison to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
The Inspector's report is highly critical of the current Prisoner Complaints System which Ms Gilheaney has described as "not fit for purpose".
The Inspector also says "the poor adherence by the Irish Prison Service to the law in relation to prisoner complaints is concerning."
"Noncompliance by the IPS," the Inspector said, "render the present operation of the existing system inadequate and unreliable. It is critically important that prisoners, prison staff and the public can have confidence that there exists a robust and fair prisoner complaints system in operation. Regrettably this is not the case."
The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton said the Prison Service, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Parliamentary Council are working closely together to finalise the statutory instrument which will give legal effect to a new Prisoner Complaints System.
The Inspectorate was also notified of 13 deaths in custody which occurred between 1 January and 31 December 2020, five of which occurred while the person was on temporary release.
In respect of the eight deaths which occurred while in prison custody, the report says two were in Arbour Hill, two in Limerick, one in Wheatfield, one in Castlerea, one in Cloverhill and one in Cork prison.
In 2020, there were ten investigation reports published, eight of these were in relation to deaths that occurred in 2018 and two of these deaths occurred in 2019.
Of these, the report says the Prison Service prepared action plans in response to recommendations made in eight reports.
Two investigation reports did not include recommendations.