Alaska prisons to open for visitation after year-long COVID closure

Goose Creek Prison. Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA - Anchorage.
Goose Creek Prison. (Ellen Lockyer/KSKA)

The state Department of Corrections plans to open visitation on Wednesday between fully vaccinated Alaskans in its custody and public visitors including family members.

It’s the first opportunity for public visitation in over a year, since Corrections officials closed all non-essential access to facilities in March of 2020 as the pandemic took hold in Alaska.

The recent DOC announcement on visitation comes with some caveats. A number of recent positive tests at Anchorage and Ketchikan correctional centers mean those facilities will remain closed. And only prisoners who are two weeks out after their final vaccine dose can receive visitors.

A recent court fight and the judge’s decision caused DOC to drop a similar vaccination requirement last week determining who could meet in-person with their lawyers.

RELATED: Judge orders state to allow in-person visits for lawyers and jailed clients, whether vaccinated or not

Angela Hall, who heads the group Supporting Our Loved Ones, said family members of incarcerated people are unhappy about the vaccination requirement for visitation. That will severely limit who is allowed to see their loved ones and that it doesn’t make sense because visitation will be between a barrier, she said.

“So it puts you in a very difficult position, and that’s everybody. Everybody had to decide whether or not they felt comfortable taking the vaccination or not,” Hall said. “But it’s our right, right? It’s our right to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to take the vaccination or not. And so it does put people in kind of a difficult position, because they really want to see their family members. It’s been a long time.”

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher wrote in an email, “It is our hope that the public recognizes DOC’s responsibility to keep those in our custody safe and as protected from COVID-19 as possible.”

According to the Department of Corrections, about 1,840 inmates have completed a full vaccination series, as of its last update on April 11. On Monday, DOC had about 4,500 people in custody.

DOC said those hoping to visit loved ones behind bars need to make an appointment and will be subject to COVID-19 screening measures, including temperature checks. A mask over the nose and mouth is required, and no physical contact will be allowed.