The Massachusetts Department of Correction on Wednesday released new protocols for visitors attempting to visit the system’s 16 facilities in an effort to stave off the spreading of COVID-19.
The DOC said “effective immediately” visitors should be prepared to answer questions about where they have traveled and disclose any contact with people showing signs of the virus. State officials say they are committed to making sure people can visit their loved ones in prison.
“Visitors may, however, experience longer than usual wait times and may be denied entry if they appear ill or pose a risk to the health and safety of persons within the facility based on questionnaire responses,’’ the DOC statement said.
The department has not identified any “known or suspected” cases of COVID-19 within its institutions. But DOC spokesman Jason Dobson said the department is working with state health officials to fend off the “introduction” of the virus into the state prisons and prepare for any outbreak.
Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the nonprofit Prisoners’ Legal Services, said she hopes the state will work to screen staff who walk in and out of prisons every day.
She said she’s particularly worried about the state’s growing elderly population, which is more susceptible to the virus.
Many advocates are pushing for prisons to release certain prisoners, she said, including those awaiting trials or who are particularly frail.
She added that prisoners often complain about sanitary conditions in prisons, including lack of hot water, soap and even toilet paper.
“This is a very contained setting and there’s a disproportionate number of elderly and sick people,’’ she said. “They should be doing whatever they can to protect people in the inside.’’