In this file photo from July 2014, a group gets a tour of a dormitory at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is also known as Angola. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is barring family members, attorneys, volunteers and other visitors from entering state prisons through at least Aug. 16 as the state undergoes its fourth surge of COVID-19 cases.
The prison system has previously been shut down to outsiders. Family visits were completely prohibited for a year — from March of 2020 to March of 2021 — because of the pandemic. Attorneys for incarcerated people were only let back in for in-person meetings as of late June.
The prison system says it believes the suspension of visitation is necessary due to the threat of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus. Louisiana has seen great increases in the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past two weeks.
The prisons currently have 45 incarcerated people across facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19. Almost all of those people — 43 of the 45 — are housed at Dixon Correctional Institute (DCI) in Jackson.
Even when the prisons opened back up to outside visitors in March, the meetings were more restricted than usual. The number of family members allowed on each visit was limited and the visits had to be shorter than prior to the pandemic. Incarcerated people who had not been vaccinated were also required to visit with family through a plastic barrier. All attorney visits had to take place through a plastic barrier.
The prison system said Tuesday that 68 percent of incarcerated people in state prisons had been vaccinated, though that doesn’t account for the state’s entire state inmate population.
Only have of the state’s prison population is housed in state facilities. The other half — about 13,000 people — is kept in local jails under the supervision of parish sheriffs. The prison system has not tracked how many of these state inmates have received the vaccine — or even been offered the vaccine — while serving their sentences in local jails, according to a recent state audit. That information is being collected for the first time this month and is expected to be available in August.
The staff working in Louisiana’s eight prisons has a vaccination rate of at least 52 percent, according to Ken Pastorick, spokesman for Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
The prison system has asked staff members to share their COVID-19 vaccination status, but does not require them to do so, Pastorick said. That 52 percent statistic is based on the number of staff members who have told the prison system they have been vaccinated, though the percentage could be higher because some staff have not shared their vaccination status with the corrections department.
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