Select prisons in Ohio begin process of reopening visitations

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Annette Chambers-Smith announced on Tuesday the reopening of in-person visitations at select facilities. 

 “One of the most significant changes we made in response to COVID-19 was the suspension of in-person visitation,” said Chambers-Smith.  “This decision was not reached lightly because we understand that visiting plays a key role in helping to maintain hope and support positive connections with loved ones.  The health and safety of our staff, visitors, and the incarcerated population is our primary concern as we move forward and learn how to live safely in this new reality.”

Six facilities have received approval to reopen outdoor-only visitation. Indoor locations are established for circumstances such as inclement weather. Visiting at Dayton Correctional Institution began last week.  Madison Correctional Institution (Zone B only), Noble Correctional Institution, and Southeastern Correctional Institution are scheduled to resume visitation Wednesday, July 8 while Grafton Correctional Institution and Warren Correctional Institution are currently expected to resume visitation on July 19 and July 26, respectively. 

“In deciding which facilities were ready to accept visitors, several factors were taken into consideration including the current status of COVID-19 at the institutions, ongoing surveillance testing, and physical plant capabilities,” said Chambers-Smith. “Through our ongoing monitoring process, we will continue to closely track the virus to determine when other facilities can resume visitation and if visiting should be modified or suspended in locations where visitation is already underway.”

DRC’s visitation protocol was developed in alignment with Governor Mike DeWine’s Responsible RestartOhio plan and will be done gradually and with modifications and safety protocols in place, including:

  • Each institution will create a written visitation plan to communicate detailed instructions to its employees.   Similarly, a JPay communication should be sent to the offender population of the activating facilities expressing details that are institution-specific.  
  • All institutions will require staff, incarcerated adults, and visitors to wear masks at all times during the visitation process except for specifically documented legal, life, health, or safety considerations and limited documented security considerations.
  • Institutions will provide disposable masks to the visitor(s).
  • Physical visitation space and the discretion of the managing officer will determine the amount of daily visitation opportunities ensuring there is a minimum of six-foot distance between guest(s) and incarcerated adult groupings for social distancing purposes.   
  • Outdoor visiting will be the primary location for visitation sessions with the indoor visiting rooms being the alternative location for other circumstances, such as inclement weather, etc. 
  • Visitation will be limited to two visitors maximum per incarcerated adult per session.    
  • Physical contact with visitors will not be permitted to include hugging, kissing, holding hands, or playing cards and board games.
  • Transparent OPI mobile barriers will be introduced to separate the visitor(s) and the incarcerated adult during visitation when experiencing inclement weather and also may be used in outdoor locations. 
  • Each facility shall install transparent barriers at the Officer’s station at front entry, visitor processing areas, and in the visiting room to create a barrier between staff and visitors.
  • Visitors and incarcerated adults shall go through the same symptom screening process as employees (based on CDC and ODH guidance) to include each person answering questions and having a temperature check before entering the visitation area.
  • Each facility shall adhere to the DRC Housekeeping Plan with Covid-19 Pandemic Update, issued on May 12, 2020, to thoroughly sanitize all areas of visiting between sessions.
  • The use of vending machines is prohibited during visitation.
  • Children under the age of 12 will not be permitted to visit during the initial activation phase and reading rooms will remain closed.
  • Hand sanitizer shall be made available in each front entry and visiting room for allpersons in the area.
  • A list of COVID-19 symptoms will be posted in a conspicuous location such as Front Entry and the Visitation Room.
  • The duration of each visiting session may be modified by the warden to increase the amount of visiting opportunities available to our guests.      
  • Visits shall be managed through a system that would allow for sessions by cohort/housing unit to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • Each facility shall coordinate operations to ensure social distancing that may include staggering of guest processing to avoid gathering in the front entry.  

Indoor visiting will also resume at the Ohio State Penitentiary on July 15, which because of its security level, has has established no-contact visiting procedures. 

DRC’s daily COVID testing information can be found at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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