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Crime & Courts

Alaska Department of Corrections loosens pandemic visitation policy, allowing lawyers to meet with vaccinated inmates

The Alaska Department of Corrections will allow attorneys to visit incarcerated clients in person beginning Wednesday, if the inmate has been vaccinated.

The change comes almost exactly a year after visitations were restricted as a pandemic precaution.

For the last year, attorneys have communicated with incarcerated clients by phone or video, although some have raised concerns that the technology is not sufficient for trial preparation. Jury trials were halted throughout the state. Misdemeanor jury trials are scheduled to resume in April.

Alaska prisons were hit hard by COVID-19, with 2,268 inmates testing positive during the last year, according to data from the corrections department. Most of the cases were contracted by community spread, which underscored the difficulties of containing the highly contagious virus in congregate settings.

At one point, roughly 90% of people incarcerated at Goose Creek Correctional Center, the state’s largest prison, had contracted COVID-19.

Five people in Alaska’s jails and prisons died after contracting COVID-19 and 15 were hospitalized, according to DOC data.

By the beginning of March, about 1,600 inmates had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 327 were completely vaccinated, according to the DOC.

Inmates must be fully vaccinated before an attorney can visit in person, and the attorney will undergo a COVID-19 screening before the visit, the corrections department said. All visits will be socially distanced and a plexiglass barrier will be set up between parties to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Masks are required, and the department said the visits will be by appointment only.

The visitation changes are the beginning of a larger reopening plan, the corrections department said in a statement. Facilities are still closed for visits by friends and family members of incarcerated people.

“We recognize how important it is for inmates to be able to connect with not only their attorneys but also friends and family,” Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom said in the statement. “Our reopening plan gradually restores outside access to institutions as well as internal activities such as education and rehabilitation programs, chaplaincy services, and slowly expands social bubbles to allow for mixed recreation and meals among inmates.”

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