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Washington state prisons to allow visitors again

Staff members head past razor wire-topped fences and into a building hosting a University Behind Bars program at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe in January 2016.
Elaine Thompson
/
The Associated Press file
Staff members head past razor wire-topped fences and into a building hosting a University Behind Bars program at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe in January 2016.

In another sign that life is slowly inching its way back to normal, the Washington state Department of Corrections has announced the public will once again be able to visit their loved ones in prison, beginning on May 9.

That’s big news for people like Betsy Woolbright Birch who had a baby boy last year just days before her husband was transferred to Department of Corrections custody. Birch said she expects her husband will continue to be detained at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell until 2023.

“We're doing our best to stay, you know, as singular of a family unit as possible. But it's very difficult when he’s locked up. So to be able to visit will mean a lot in helping us keep our family together and strong until he comes home,” Birch said in a recent interview. 

In-person visits at Washington state’s 24 prisons and work-release centers were suspended at the beginning of the pandemic.

In total, more than 6,000 people in Washington state prisons and facilities have tested positive for COVID-19; 14 people have died. More than 1,000 employees have also contracted cononavirus; two have died. 

The Department of Corrections says the public can make visitation appointments online. To allow as many people as possible to visit, visitors will be allowed to make monthly one-hour appointments. Only facilities with a current COVID-19 outbreak will be excluded. 

A maximum of two people are allowed to visit at a time, with at least one over the age of 18.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station.
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