In-person prison visits to resume in Michigan, but through plexiglass shields

George Hunter
The Detroit News

For the first in more than a year, Michigan prisoners will be able to receive visitors — although they'll have a plexiglass shield between them — starting March 20, state corrections officials announced Friday.

The Michigan Department of Corrections on March 13, 2020, suspended in-person visits at its facilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visits will resume with two-hour time limits, and no physical contact will be allowed.

A sign provides directions to the Calhoun County Correctional Facility.

"We recognize how important in-person visitation is to our prison population,” MDOC director Heidi Washington said in a release Friday. “With the continuation of vaccines and cases within the MDOC on a steady decline, the department is prepared to provide in-person visits without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of our inmates and staff.”

Among the mandated safety protocols:

  • Prior to entering MDOC facilities, visitors will be screened, including a temperature check and an antigen rapid test.
  • Visitors will be asked to store their personal masks in lockers provided; the MDOC will give them new masks that must be worn during visits.
  • Prisoners receiving visitors also will take an antigen rapid test before the visit.
  • During visits, interactions will be modified. "Elevated health and safety protocols are in place and include hand sanitizer and plexiglass, which serves as a divider between the prisoner and their visitor," the release said.
  • "Prisoners are prohibited from physical contact with their visitors until further notice," the release said.

Visits must be scheduled 48-72 hours in advance.

"Information about how to schedule visits will be available soon on the MDOC website www.michigan.gov/corrections," the MDOC release said. "Once visitors have scheduled their visits, they should monitor the MDOC website to ensure the facility is not in quarantine, or the housing unit of the prisoner they wish to visit is not in quarantine."

During the year of suspended visits, officials say they compensated by giving inmates access to free phone calls and "JPay" messages each week.

"Also last year, the department also began implementing video visitation for prisoners and their loved ones and soon it will be available at all prison facilities," an MDOC press release said. 

"This service has allowed those incarcerated and their families a safe way to stay connected during the pandemic. Video visitation will continue despite a return to in-person visitation."