In-person visitation for inmates at Missouri state prisons has resumed for the first time this year. COVID-19 policies suspended in-house visits at the start of the pandemic. These restrictions were lifted in select locations last June, but as cold & flu season returned, they were once again put in place.
Now, due to availability of the vaccine, and the Missouri Department of Corrections’ goal to safely re-open, vaccinated inmates are once again being allowed to see loved ones for in-person visits. A few other states are also resuming in-person visitation, but restricting prisoners who abstain from getting vaccinated is a state policy that has not been adopted everywhere.
The Epoch Times was able to interview the Communications Director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, Karen Pojman. She specifically noted a focus on gradually reopening with safety in mind. “The idea is to reduce risk as much as possible while reopening and see how things evolve in the community.”
When asked if this policy was made to encourage inmates to get the vaccine, she reported that roughly 57 percent of inmates have chosen to get the shot and that, “It’s been a long time since they (inmates) have seen their families,” and so, “People were motivated to get the vaccine and see their families sooner rather than later.”
Incentives to get the vaccine have been rolled out across the country. Businesses are offering free items, events, tickets, college scholarships, lottery cash prizes, and more to encourage vaccination. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has allowed a “Joints for Jabs” promotion which gives out a free marijuana joint to adults who receive the shot at an in-store vaccination clinic.
These promotions are all voluntary, and do not keep unvaccinated individuals from seeing their loved ones. Regardless of the Missouri Department of Corrections policy, withholding in-person visits from inmates to encourage vaccination is not something that every state has implemented.
Select Pennsylvania prisons have already allowed in-person visits regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required, as are temperature screenings and a COVID-19 questionnaire, but there is no differentiation between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at these facilities.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is taking this route—resuming in-person visits next month—without a requirement to become vaccinated. Like Pennsylvania’s policies, masks are required, but inmates are allowed brief hugs, up to 3 approved visitors, and the rules clearly state that the “Vaccination status of an individual will not alter any of these rules or guidelines.”
News reports that Iowa and South Carolina prisons will be allowing in-person visits soon have been circulated, but so far their websites have not been updated to reflect this information. As the country re-opens, inmates and their families have spent months—if not the entire pandemic—separated. Reopening rules which require a vaccine in order to resume in-person visits at state prisons are being received with mixed reviews.
A former inmate of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, now residing in Missouri, (who asked to remain anonymous) reacted to news of the recent policy, “While I understand the desire to open up as quickly as possible, I think it’s an absolute abuse of authority to hold prisoners’ visitation rights hostage. We are talking about a vaccine that is relatively untested, and, last time I checked, prisoners are not lab rats. This isn’t Nazi Germany.”
He went on to state, “Inmates are already subjected to subpar food, dental, and medical treatment. Who’s to say they aren’t getting an off-brand version of the vax that will have them growing arms out of their stomachs?”
These concerns have been expressed by some members of the medical community as well. A coalition of medical professionals, known as America’s Frontline Doctors, have openly questioned the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the pandemic and claim to have been censored. Organized by Dr. Simone Gold, their mission statement declares, “The doctor-patient relationship is being threatened. That means quality patient care is under fire like never before. Powerful interests are undermining the effective practice of medicine with politicized science and biased information. Now more than ever, patients need access to independent, evidence-based information to make the best decisions for their healthcare. Doctors must have the independence to care for their patients without interference from government, media and the medical establishment.”
As unvaccinated inmates are required to remain isolated while those who get the shot are afforded more freedoms, this policy raises more questions.
When asked about allowing unvaccinated prisoners the right to in-person visits, Pojman said, “We don’t really have a timeline yet.” The Missouri Department of Corrections is taking time to “monitor rates” and “go from there.”
So far, she has found that “at this point, we have very few cases and the majority of cases are at intake facilities.” It was also noted that of 23,000 inmates, 20 people were infected the last time she was updated.
Without a start date determined to allow unvaccinated prisoners in-person visits again, their isolation continues across Missouri. Regardless, each state is setting its own rules for re-opening procedures and that includes how prison visits are handled.