Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. Photo courtesy of WNPR

For the first time since March, friends and families will be allowed to visit Connecticut prison inmates beginning next week. The Department of Correction announced Friday it would open its facilities for non-contact social visits on Oct. 15.

For many families of inmates, this will be the first time they’ve lain eyes on their loved ones since March, when the DOC indefinitely suspended visits due to the pandemic.

The conditions of each visit are subject to a myriad of COVID-19 restrictions. Each guest must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth at all times, which they must provide themselves. To accommodate as many guests as possible, each visitation will be restricted to 30 minutes. Two people, maximum, will be allowed for each visit.

The social calls will be by appointment only and must be scheduled 72 hours in advance. The visitations are coordinated by emailing addresses from each DOC correctional facility‘s webpage. Individuals must receive confirmation of a scheduled time and date before traveling to the prison or jail, and need to be on an inmate’s visitation list.

To prevent the spread of the virus, temperature checks and screenings will be conducted prior to allowing people into the visitation room. Anyone who test positive for the virus within 48 hours of a visit should contact that facility.

Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to receive visitors until they are medically cleared. Currently there is one inmate who has the virus and is showing symptoms; three people are asymptomatic.

The agency warned that its highest priority is protecting prisons and jails from another surge of the virus. Visiting areas will be sanitized between each visit. Any spike in the number of cases among staff or inmates, or in the community, would result in the immediate suspension of visits at that correctional facility, or potentially across all 14 prisons and jails across the state.

In addition to the resumed visitation policy, the DOC announced it expects to begin implementing video visitations in about a month. The technology will allow those who can’t make it to the correctional facility to have increased contact with their loved ones. DOC Commissioner Designate Angel Quiros has said the department intends to make the video calls free, unlike the costly phone calls prisoners currently use to stay in touch with family and friends.

“I truly understand how difficult it has been for offenders and their loved ones not to have been able to see each other face-to-face during the pandemic,” Quiros said in a statement. “The resumption of visits has been a top priority of mine, but we have to take every precaution possible to make sure we continue to keep the virus at bay.”

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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