Prison administrators face a unique challenge when facing the coronavirus pandemic – some inmates are drinking hand sanitiser for its alcohol content.
In Christmas 2014, three prisoners brewed up a "moonshine" of hand wash and prescription drugs in Limerick Prison in Ireland and had to be hospitalised.
The trio reportedly caused “mayhem” at University Hospital Limerick. Most common brands of hand sanitiser have been banned in Irish prisons ever since.
As a result, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has been obliged to source special alcohol-free sanitiser to give to prisoners during the current crisis.
This is despite the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warning that hand sanitisers which contain less than 60% alcohol merely slow the growth of pathogens rather than killing them.
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“The unique environment of a prison and the sheer numbers and diversity of people who pass through our prisons make vigilance around infection prevention and control absolutely necessary,” the IPS said in a statement.
The spokesperson stressed that "99%" of prison cells have toilets and hand-washing facilities and there are showers "on most prison landings".
While Sherif Sultan, Galway-based president of the International Society of Vascular Surgery, questioned the treatment of prisoners during the epidemic.
He pointed out that sneezing or coughing while wearing handcuffs contains its own set of problems.
An IPS spokesperson replied that on the rare occasions where prisoners are made to wear handcuffs, they still have enough freedom of movement to cover their mouths if they cough or sneeze.
Nevertheless, Dr Sultan added: “Prisoners in jail are more likely to contract the virus due to overcrowding and low levels of sanitisation.”
In New York in the US, convicts have actually been making alcohol-based hand sanitiser in prison workshops.
"The hand sanitiser is being mixed by a vendor specifically for NYS and being bottled and labelled at Great Meadow Correctional Facility contains Isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin USP, softened water and citrus fresh fragrance," a spokesman with the New York Department of Corrections told ABC News.
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The move has been decried as "slave labour" by some critics.
ina Luongo and Adriene Holder of The Legal Aid Society, said: "Incarcerated people in New York have always been forced to produce essential products for state agencies.
"These individuals work for less than a dollar a day under threat of punishment, including solitary confinement, if they refuse."
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