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Crime & Courts

Alaska will allow public visits for all incarcerated people, removing vaccination requirement

The Alaska Department of Corrections will reopen public visitation and remove a vaccination requirement for incarcerated people that drew concern from their advocates and families.

Beginning Friday, no-contact public visits can resume with pandemic precautions in place, the corrections department said in a Wednesday statement.

Visitors will be required to wear face masks and undergo a COVID-19 screening when they enter a correctional facility, the department said. Appointments are required and the secure visits will not allow for physical contact.

Visitation will remain closed for people incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Complex due to recent COVID-19 cases, the department said.

Prisons and jails in Alaska stopped public visits in March 2020 as a pandemic precaution.

In the year since, COVID-19 spread through the facilities, underscoring the challenges of containing the highly contagious virus in a congregate living facility. More than 2,400 people in the state’s correctional facilities have contracted COVID-19, and five died, according to data from the department. There were 4,490 people incarcerated in state correctional facilities on Wednesday, said Betsy Holley, a spokeswoman for the department.

By Sunday, 2,757 of the people incarcerated in Alaska had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The corrections department started the first round of public visitations last week, but only allowed inmates who had been fully vaccinated to participate. The department had similarly restricted attorney visits to fully vaccinated inmates a month earlier. An Anchorage judge ruled the department had to allow all incarcerated people the opportunity to meet with their attorney in person, regardless of their vaccination status.

The department intended to reopen in phases “to make sure it went smooth and without incident,” Holley said by email.

There were no active cases of COVID-19 in the general population at the facilities that moved to public visitation initially. Facilities undergo a 28-day waiting period after the last case is identified before visitation is allowed, Gallagher said. The Ketchikan Correctional Center was not opened last week to visitors because it was still in the waiting period.

The Anchorage Correctional Complex is the only facility with virus cases among the general population and is still closed to public visitation. On Wednesday, there were three cases of COVID-19 in the general population and one active case in the intake section of the facility, Holley said.