COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — For the first time in over a year, some inmates at South Carolina prisons will be able to see their loved ones again in person.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) expanded their visitations to all institutions starting Thursday. They had begun phasing-in visitation for vaccinated inmates at certain facilities over the summer.

Institutions that have a housing unit on COVID-19 quarantine will not hold visitation. This week, officials said Kershaw and Wateree River had units on quarantine.

State prison officials resumed visitations with a special Christmas schedule this week. According to officials, Christmas visits will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Dec. 23-26 and will be scheduled in 1.5 hour blocks.

Director Bryan Stirling said, “We thought it was important, especially around Christmas time and the holidays for people to see their families.”

According to SCDC, visits must be scheduled ahead of time through a scheduler, located here on the agency’s website. This is the same process used to schedule virtual visits officials say.

Other changes include:

  1. Visits will be non-contact except for a brief embrace at the beginning of the visit.
  2. Visits at medium and close security institutions will be in newly installed visitation booths.
  3. Proof of vaccination is not required for visitors or inmates.
  4. All visitors will be screened for covid symptoms.
  5. Visitors age four and older will be given a face mask to wear and are required to wear it during the entire visit. Personal face masks will not be allowed. Hand sanitizer also will be provided.
  6. All visitation stations will be sanitized after each visit.
  7. Visitors are encouraged to use the restroom before arriving at the institution as restrooms will not be accessible.
  8. Institutions with living areas on covid quarantine will not be able to visit. Information about this will be shared as soon as it is known, keeping in mind that covid testing is ongoing and circumstances can change quickly.
  9. If visitors are unable to attend a scheduled visit, they must cancel the visit 24 hours ahead of time. Otherwise the visit will count toward the inmate’s monthly visit total.

SCDC said all inmates with privileges may have up to three visits per month until COVID-19 restrictions are changed. Female and minimum-security institutions will continue visits on their same schedule. Christmas visits will be extra and will not count toward their allotted three per month.

Director Stirling said they will continue to keep a close eye on COVID-19 cases inside the prison. Right now, prisons are reporting 35 active COVID-19 cases among inmates.

“If there’s a COVID outbreak at an institution obviously we’re not going to endanger the general public, visitors and our folks who are incarcerated,” Stirling said.

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