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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Iowa Department of Corrections will resume in-person visits for inmates in early July, provided the offender is vaccinated against COVID-19.
Department spokesman Cord Overton said officials have been looking at other states and talking with public health officials about how to allow visitors again for the first time since March 2020.
“We do believe early July will be the right time for us start in-person visitation,” Overton told the Board of Corrections last Friday. “All inmates that receive visitors will be required to be vaccinated. Otherwise, they will have to receive their visits via the video visitation system we have in place.”
More than 58 percent of people incarcerated in Iowa’s prisons are fully vaccinated, while 62 percent have had one shot. The full vaccination rate among prison staff is 56 percent.
“Once the word is spread around about the visitation restriction, I would expect to see more inmates get vaccinated,” Overton said.
Visitors would not have to be vaccinated. Overton said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for visitation at long-term care facilities specifically mentions the patient should be fully vaccinated, but does not say the same for visitors. “We are trying to balance our policy between risk, feasibility, and reasonable prudence,” he said.
Iowa’s prisons and jails banned visitors in early March 2020 as cases of COVID-19 started mounting in Iowa. Since the pandemic began, more than 4,800 people incarcerated in Iowa’s prisons have gotten the disease and 19 have died from it. There were six positive tests Monday among Iowa’s more than 7,500 prisoners.
More than 700 prison staff have contracted the virus and two staff have died from COVID-19.
While halting visits was viewed as necessary to protect offenders from the highly-contagious disease, the move can increase offenders’ risk of reoffending once they are released, studies show.
A study of 16,420 people released from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007 showed any visit cut the chances of the released person committing a felony by 13 percent and reduced the likelihood of the person committing a technical violation, such as a parole violation, by 25 percent, according to a 2016 paper by In the Public Interest, a national nonprofit that studies public goods and services.
During the pandemic, Iowa prison offenders have been allowed free video visits, which will continue even after the visitor ban is lifted.
The Corrections Department is developing a new scheduling system so visitors will know when they will be able to see their loved ones, instead of coming during general visiting hours. The agency also is developing rules that could include masking and social distancing in the visiting spaces.
The department will be communicating these changes to incarcerated individuals and their families in coming weeks, Overton said.
Since a March 23 attack at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, where two inmates are accused of the bludgeoning deaths of two employees, Iowa’s prisons have suspended all work and apprenticeship programs. Anamosa still is on restricted movement, meaning offenders get only a couple hours a day outside of their cells.
Overton said it’s possible Anamosa visits will be delayed somewhat after the other prisons because of multiple security reviews there. The board on Friday named Kris Karberg as the new warden at Anamosa.
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