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COVID-19 Inspired Ban on Prison Visits in Texas Ends

On March 15, 2021, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that prisoners, after nearly a year, could resume visitation with family and friends.

There are still some restrictions that they must deal with if families want to visit. Visits must be scheduled in advance, and prisoners initially are only allowed two in person visits a month.

Visitors also must take the rapid-results COVID test before entering any of the prisons or jails. Face masks must be worn, and there is to be no physical contact.

Maggie Luna, a peer policy fellow with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, weighed in that she understands these protocols are the safest way to go. She commented, “I know a lot of the family members are going to be upset and want to hold their family members.” The hugging and holding part have been put on hold.

She also recognized that some of the prisoners’ mental health has deteriorated over the limited to no contact they have had with family and friends during the pandemic.

In addition, prisoners on restriction or on medical isolation are not permitted to enjoy the privilege of finally being able to see family and friends. Their opportunity for visitation is still on hold.

Texas has a history of hard time in its prison system. With visits reopening, one would think that prisoners should be vaccinated. The TDCJ has received tens of thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccine, yet only 628 prisoners had received the vaccine as of publication time. Media reports say the vaccinations only occurred because a freezer failed, which prompted a rush to use thawing doses before they expired. PLN has heard from one source that at one Texas prison, inmates 65 and older or with co-morbidities have received at least one vaccine shot.

The TDCJ says it believes it can safely resume limited face-to-face visits. Time will tell, and some think vaccines should have been dispensed to prisoners prior to the reopening of the visits. Perhaps the governor should order the TDCJ to see to it that all prisoners are vaccinated, especially when there is talk of new variants and spikes in cases in some states across the country. 


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