116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In-person visits to Iowa prison inmates are set to resume in early July. That’s good for inmates and their loved ones, but also potentially for public safety.
Prison visitation was restricted 15 months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. That was a necessary move at the time, but with COVID-19 cases dwindling in the state, it’s time to reconnect inmates with their friends and family.
Research shows that offenders who are isolated from the outside world during their incarceration have worse outcomes after they’re released. Prison visits are a cheap and effective way to reduce the chances of inmates reoffending when their sentences are over.
There will be changes when visits restart in Iowa next month, such as reduced capacity and social distancing rules. Only inmates who are fully vaccinated against COVID will be eligible for in-person visits.
Additionally, the Department of Corrections o plans to extend availability of free video calls, which inmates’ contacts have relied on throughout the pandemic. That’s a good alternative to in-person visits, especially for people who live far away from their incarcerated loved one.
The prison system also will develop a new scheduling system that will give visitors more detailed information about upcoming visits.
Inmates’ communication to loved ones also has been a concern at the county level in recent years.
The Gazette’s Erin Jordan reported in 2019 that county jails and their private vendors were charging vastly different rates for inmate phone calls, ranging from $3 to more than $14 for a 15-minute phone call. Many counties earn revenue from the calls, including more than $200,000 in 2018 for Linn County.
After a two-year review, the Iowa Utilities Board this February forced companies to provide inmates cheaper calls, Jordan reported in February. Inmates should only be charged for the cost of services they use, not to pad the sheriff’s budget.
Many of Iowa’s prisons and jails are overcrowded, and the state has struggled to make progress at reducing reoffense rates. Breaking down barriers between inmates and the outside is a smart way to begin addressing those problems.
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