Starting on Wednesday, April 21, some Alaska inmates will be permitted to see friends, relatives and others for the first time in more than a year, but only if they acquiesce to getting experimental COVID shots. According to an April 19 public notice from the Dept. of Corrections, any inmate who fails to submit to COVID shots will be denied outside visitors.
For their part, all visitors will be subject to a COVID-19 entry point screening, including temperature readings. Once inside the prison, visitors must wear face masks that cover their nose and mouth at all times, and they are not permitted to make any physical contact with inmates – no hugging or handshakes.
In March, the DOC attempted to deny all non-vaccinated inmates access to visits with attorneys. Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir ruled against the state’s position, saying it “shall not distinguish in its visitation policies between vaccinated and unvaccinated inmates.”
It is unclear whether the current policy regarding visitors in general would stand up to a court challenge.
A prisoner advocacy group in Alaska, Supporting Our Loved Ones Group, issued a statement on the new DOC visitation policy.
“To say that we are disappointed in the Department of Corrections decision to mandate vaccination in conjunction with eligibility to have a “secure visit” would be a major understatement,” the group’s website states. “Family members have been waiting over a year to visit with loved ones. To finally have some small access to our incarcerated loved ones, even if it is behind glass, only to learn that they must first be fully vaccinated before they can participate is another blow to the families of over 4,000 incarcerated Alaskans. It also defies logic when staff and visiting vendors are NOT required to be vaccinated, and they come into direct contact with our incarcerated loved ones on a daily basis albeit with safety measures put in place to reduce the risk of spreading Covid19. Why should it be any different for visiting family members?”
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DOC Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom said her department is “excited to be able to open our facilities to the public for visitation once again,” while noting that this has been “a challenging year and we appreciate everyone’s patience and flexibility as we gradually restore our facilities to their pre-COVID operations.”
By appointment only, institutional lobbies will also reopen April 21 to collect bail and contributions to Offender Trust Accounts.
Due to some recent positive COVID tests at the Anchorage Correctional Complex and Ketchikan Correctional Center, those prisons are not open to any visitors at this time. suspended at this time.
The DOC originally suspended all nonessential activity in Alaska prisons on March 19, 2020, which means most inmates have gone more than a year without seeing visitors.
- Click here to contact the Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom.