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story.lead_photo.caption This December 2015 file photo shows the administration building at Tipton Correctional Center. Photo by California Democrat

For the first time in more than 14 months, visitation at all Missouri prison facilities will be available for vaccinated offenders.

The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) resumed normal visiting hours last Tuesday for offenders who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, making last weekend the first opportunity for many to see family and friends since March of 2020.

Tipton Correctional Center, Jefferson City Correctional Center and Algoa Correctional Center visiting hours are 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 2:30-6:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

Visits are required to be scheduled in advance, and an online visitor application must be approved by an institutional case manager before the visit. Regular COVID-19 precautions such as face masks, social distancing and temperature screenings will be enforced.

Immediate and extended family, friends, clergy and attorneys can complete the visitation application. Visitors are not required to be vaccinated but are encouraged.

The DOC website states regular visits will resume for everyone as vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 conditions improve.

Karen Pojmann, communications director for Missouri Department of Corrections, said the department is gradually reintroducing visits — starting with vaccinated individuals, as they possess the lowest risk of transmitting the virus — to potentially learn and adapt from the early phases of the process. Staff shortages are another factor the department is considering as it begins to open visitations.

Pojmann said a date for when non-vaccinated offenders can be visited has not been set, and there isn't a definitive metric for how that decision will be made.

"The department leadership will discuss it and make a decision accordingly," Pojmann said. "We've learned to be pretty flexible in the past year in light of the pandemic, so when we have more information, we may make more decisions."

Pojmann said visits were open sporadically across the state last summer because some facilities had zero reported cases of the coronavirus. Jefferson City Correctional Center and Algoa Correctional Center were two of those facilities that continued visits last summer. As the virus spread across the state, however, visits were suspended.

Now, Pojmann said, the department is taking steps to return to normalcy.

She said June 1 was the department's target date to get as many offenders as possible vaccinated after the move to provide vaccines to all Missouri residents in April.

About 55 percent of the offender population in Missouri has been vaccinated, Pojmann said. Vaccinations are available to all offenders who request one as Pojmann said the department followed the same vaccine schedule as the rest of the state. Roughly 30 percent of offenders qualified and were provided the vaccine during Phase 1B-Tier 2, which included anyone 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions.

"I think we've plateaued or increased by about 1 percent in the past three weeks," Pojmann said. "We got a lot of people who were takers early on, and I think some other people are coming around."

Pojmann said the DOC hopes more offenders get the vaccine with it being a requirement for visits.

While a COVID-19 outbreak is not anticipated, Pojmann said, the department is prepared to act if it does.

Visiting rooms will remain at 50 percent capacity, and offenders are limited to one visit per week and a maximum of two visits each month. Two visitors are allowed at each scheduled visit, and children younger than 24 months are not included in the visitor limit but are permitted to attend visits.

Standard visiting rules, such as physical contact limitations, dress code and item allowances, are still in place, she said.

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