Alaskans in the state’s jails and prisons will be allowed to receive visitors beginning Friday, regardless of whether they are vaccinated for COVID-19.
The Department of Corrections announced Wednesday that it was getting rid of the requirement that inmates be vaccinated in order to receive visitors.
There are still limitations with the new policy. Physical contact isn’t allowed. Instead, visits will be limited to phone calls in a secure room between a glass barrier. And because of the high demand for visits after a year of COVID-19 restrictions, prisons are limiting visits to 45 minutes once per week, according to Angela Hall, who leads a support group for inmates’ families.
“It’s basically one step up from nothing, you know, but at least it’s something,” she said.
Hall said her group was previously considering legal action against the Department of Corrections over the vaccine requirement, which prevented her from visiting her husband, an inmate at Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai. Hall says he decided not to get vaccinated because of concerns about side effects but felt pressure to get one under the previous policy.
“We didn’t think it was right that they would be discriminating between non-vaccinated and vaccinated people,” she said.
Health officials have repeatedly stressed that the COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA are safe and effective.
Anchorage Correctional Complex is still closed to visitors due to recent COVID-19 cases. There are currently four active cases at the jail, a Department of Corrections spokesperson said in an email.
About half of the 4,800 Alaskans in state custody have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to department data.