People held in Kentucky prisons and juvenile justice centers will be allowed in-person visitors again beginning June 20, for the first time in more than a year.
Gov. Andy Beshear halted in-person visitation at state Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice facilities last March in an effort to keep out the coronavirus. Since then, visitation could only be conducted virtually. Still, nearly 8,000 adults held in correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Keturah Herron, policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, said resuming in-person visitation is “huge” for incarcerated people and their mental health.
“Incarceration in general is rough, and so then when you add COVID to it, and then not being able to have those visits and seeing your loved ones — it takes a toll on the individual. And I would also probably assume that it probably creates a more hostile environment,” Herron told WFPL.
She pointed to research showing visits from family members and loved ones reduces the risk of recidivism, improves mental health of incarcerated people, and is associated with less rule-breaking.
“I think that this is something that we should have probably done a lot sooner,” Herron said.
During a briefing last week, Beshear said the new regulation will allow people to see two in-person visitors at a time. The visitors will have to schedule the visit in advance, show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, wear a mask and social distance.
“This is a setting where if there is a COVID outbreak, we have seen that it can be devastating how quickly it can spread,” Beshear said.
Virtual visitation will continue for visitors who are not vaccinated or can’t or won’t wear a mask.
Beshear said 76% of people in the Department of Corrections facilities are vaccinated against COVID-19, and that all people are offered the vaccine during intake and given the opportunity to change their mind if they refuse it.
The governor said the state is working on getting “consent” for children 12 and older held in Department of Juvenile Justice facilities to receive the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in people 12 years of age and older.