Midstate prisons starting to reopen for in-person visits

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Prisons in our area are starting to reopen for visitors, Ending a long period of isolation for inmates. Advocates are excited about the change.

State prisons started visitations on May 22, but according to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, only 19 out of the state’s 63 county prisons have followed suit.

Inmates in prisons across Pennsylvania have been more isolated than usual over the last year.

“This pandemic has been very difficult on the mental health of people locked up because they’ve been in their cells 22 or 23 hours a day without visitation,” said John Hargreaves, director of volunteer services with the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

The Pennsylvania Prison Society is recommending county facilities resume non-contact visits in a manner consistent with CDC guidelines.

“I get calls and inboxes on Facebook every day about people’s loved ones not knowing what’s going on, can’t contact them, can’t see them,” said Kevin Maxson, CEO of Voices 4 the Voiceless. “There’s a high anxiety aspect when dealing with that.”

Some facilities in our area have resumed in-person visits, including Lancaster and Cumberland County prisons.

Dauphin County discussed the issue this week, that in the first phase they’ll begin with vaccinated inmates and visitors, but no definitive start date has been set.

“When you’re in a confined space, all you really have to look forward to other than your day in court or freedom is those you love and care about,” Maxson said.

But there is still worry about covid transmission as staff and inmate vaccination rates are low across county prisons.

“We encourage prisons that are allowing people to come back in to test the staff regularly also. That’s how COVID has been transmitted throughout the prisons we believe,” Hargreaves said.

Through these restrictions, these advocates remain hopeful.

“Prison doesn’t last forever. Your family will make it back home to you,” Maxson said. “You will have the opportunity to see them in the near future. Just continue loving them and keeping them strong through this trying time.”

In addition to continuous testing, the Pennsylvania Prison Society is also calling on state and county officials to offer ongoing vaccine clinics.

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