Parents, family and friends can once again visit their loved ones behind bars after a months-long suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We know it's been a hardship for inmates and their loved ones not to be able to visit in-person; we had expanded telephone and video visits, but we know it's important to see your loved one in person," said Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis.
With just one confirmed COVID-19 case at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, visitation will resume at all of Delaware's prisons Monday, June 29, 2020. The inmate, DOC said, has been COVID-positive for several weeks and will be retested soon. DeMatteis touted the prison's ability to contain COVID-19 to four housing units out of 173 buildings across all prisons by converting a vacant building on the grounds of Vaughn prison into a COVID-19 treatment center.
"That's really remarkable, and it speaks to the expertise of our medical team and the commitment of our officers to make sure we isolate and quarantine any inmate who has tested positive in the past; we did extensive testing [and] tracing, of course, very aggressive treatment" she said. "We know that if COVID comes into our facilities, at this point, it will be from an officer, who's positive, a visitor, an educator, a counselor."
Visitors must sign up in advance and will be subject to a temperature check and a COVID-19 screening.
"If they come from a household that's had COVID in the last 30 days, they will not be able to visit. If they have any symptoms, they will not be able to visit.. If their address that they signed up with doesn't match the ID that they show up with, they won't be able to enter the facility. When they visit they sign a disclaimer that they understand that...up to 14 days after their visit, the Department of Correction will be checking their name against the public database of COVID-positive people."
Visitors will also be given a mask, thanks to a donation of 5,000 surgical masks, facilitated by state Senator Darius Brown (D-Wilmington), from the REFORM Alliance, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group, co-founded by several prominent people, including Meek Mill, Jay-Z, 76ers partner Michael Rubin, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
"It just shows the commitment of people throughout our country and also in Delaware, business partners and advocacy groups working together on a myriad of issues," said Brown.
"The inmate will be able to keep his or her mask, and it will be disposable for the visitor, but it's really important for safety reasons that people who are visiting don't come with their own mask because there could possibly be contraband hidden in that mask," she said.
"It's a big help, without this donation, we would have to purchase masks for this purpose, so the donation is very much welcome," said DeMatteis.
As more places reopen and testing is on the rise, more COVID-19 cases are expected. The prisons are no different.
"We are prepared for additional cases," she said. "All inmates will continue to be screened. If anybody runs a fever, tests positive, they will immediately be moved to the COVID treatment center...if we see an uptick in cases because of visitation, we will have to revisit our policy and potentially re-suspend it, but we're going to start it back up and see if the screenings work," said DeMatteis. "Just like the people in the community, we have to remain vigilant."