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Department of Corrections starting in-person visits again at state prisons

DES MOINES — In-person visits resumed at the state’s prisons Saturday after being shut down for some 16 months following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Department of Corrections director, Beth Skinner, says they are going to start out by allowing just half the normal capacity for visitors. “We know COVID is still around, there are variants around…so we want to start off slow and carefully watch the numbers,” Skinner says. She says they will still have online visitation available and may expand the in-person prison visitation if everything goes well.

“We’ll reevaluate that in a couple of months to see — making sure that the numbers stay stable — so we don’t have any spread of COVID in our prisons,” she says. Skinner spoke at the Board of Corrections meeting today and says they now only have two COVID cases in the system.

Skinner also announced a change she says the staff is excited about. “We are no longer requiring staff to wear masks, it is completely optional at this point,” according to Skinner. “There are exceptions in terms of when you are required to wears masks For example, in the infirmary.”

Skinner says the prison population has crept back up and is now 11.8% above capacity. She says it was 22% above capacity prior to COVID. Skinner says the population is expected to increase even more in the coming weeks. She says there are still around 350 people waiting in jails to be processed, and that number could increase as the court system gets back to full capacity.

Skinner was asked about filling the open staff positions — and she says it has been a priority to find people to fill them. “Our wardens have done a terrific job — we are actually working with DAS, the Department of Administrative Services as well — to figure out recruitment, some new strategies in terms of getting people in the door, new applicants,” Skinner says.

The Iowa Board of Corrections voted today to make interim warden Chris Tripp the permanent warden of the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. They also approved Shawn Howard as the Warden of the Newton prison and Marcy Stroud as warden at the Mount Pleasant prison.

The appointments today are part of what has been multiple changes in leadership at the state prisons.


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