DES MOINES — Inmates in Iowa prisons who’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to have in-person visitors, starting next month. Iowa Department of Corrections director Beth Skinner described it as a slow opening.
“Our visitation rooms will probably be cut in half in terms of the number of people that will be able to visit,” Skinner said in a message posted online. “…Video visitation will continue. We also believe that’s a great tool for people who can’t drive to the prisons and want to have connections with their loved ones.”
Inmates who are allowed to have visitors, but who have not agreed to get a Covid shot, will be able to continue using the video system for visitations according to Cord Overton, a spokesman for the agency.
“Those video visits are free of charge to the inmates right now,” Overton said.
Prison officials plan to set up a scheduling system, “so that folks that are going to come visit a particular inmate can know that time that a visit is going to take place and it caps the visits at a certain length “so that we can make sure those that want to have visits can get them done in a given week on visiting day,” Overton says.
Overton told the Iowa Board of Corrections on Friday that nearly 59% of the inmates in Iowa prisons are fully vaccinated.
“Once the word is kind of spread around the prisons about the visiting restriction that you need to be vaccinated in order to have visitors at that time, that I would expect to see additional inmates that do decide to get vaccinated if they’ve been kind of on the fence about that,” Overton said.
Prison visitors will not be required to show they’ve gotten a Covid shot. Studies have found family visits reduced depression among female and juvenile inmates. In-person visits also were found to reduce rule-breaking within the prison and reduced recidivism once an inmate was paroled.