JACKSON, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Doris Carpenter worries about her young grandson. It’s been 15 months since he’s seen his father — her son — who is serving a 10-year sentence at the Bolivar County Correctional Facility in Cleveland. That likely won’t change any time soon because of a new policy put in place by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The visitation policy, issued by MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain in May 2021, lays out guidelines restricting age and time frames that people can visit their loved ones inside of prison. According to the new policy, incarcerated people can only have two adult visitors and no children per session, and they can only come during specific hours once a month.
“It’s unfortunate that a 7-year-old child cannot see their father and cries all the time… In essence, they’re keeping their children from their loved ones,” Carpenter said.
When Mississippi reported its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, MDOC suspended all visitation at their facilities, “effective immediately” and “until further notice.” The department reported 109 deaths in 2020 — of those, 22 were determined through autopsy to be caused by COVID-19, though dozens more are still pending autopsy results.
Over a year after COVID-19 gripped the state and the nation, MDOC mandated people incarcerated inside their prisons take COVID-19 vaccinations or forgo visitation once it was reinstated. While people can now visit the prisons, family members like Carpenter say the department’s new policy is not sufficient.
Carpenter said she and her husband are fully vaccinated, and their son received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in April in the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility.
She wasn’t able to see her son until June 19, Carpenter said, her first time seeing him since the pandemic began in 2020. She drove over four hours to visit with her son inside the prison for less than one hour.
She arrived at the Bolivar County Correctional Facility with her husband about an hour before visitation started at 9 a.m., but prison officials only allowed people to begin filing into the prison 10 minutes before the visitation window opened, cutting into visitation time, Carpenter said. She only got 45 minutes with him and is unsure when prison officials will schedule visits again at the Bolivar County Correctional Facility, she said.
“It’s almost like MDOC is doing everything in their power to prevent the visits than rather allow the visits,” Carpenter said, “even though the inmates have had the vaccine.”
Carpenter worries most about her 7-year-old grandson, the child of her incarcerated son, who is now not allowed to visit his father at all inside the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility, per MDOC’s visitation policy, which does not allow any visitors under the age of 18.