Bobbie Pflugrad’s partner hasn’t held their 16-month-old son since he was two weeks old.
Pflugrad, a 27-year-old mother from Walla Walla, said their first in-person visit since the pandemic was May 22 at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center about 100 miles southwest of Spokane. Their baby and any child under 16 would not have been allowed.
Pflugrad and her partner sat on opposite sides of a glass barrier, wearing masks and with several officers standing around in earshot. After weeks of looking forward to the visit, she said they decided to cut it short because it was “like torture.”
“They were saying if we even touched hands through the barrier, you know, put our hands to the glass, they would terminate the visit,” Pflugrad said. “I had to literally sit on my hands just so I wouldn’t reach out and touch his hand from glass to glass.”
The Washington State Department of Corrections opened up visits May 9. As more prisoners were vaccinated, the department finalized protocols after months of planning to safely reopen in accordance with the department’s Safe Start plan, said Jacque Coe, communications director for the agency.
As of Friday, roughly 80% of Washington state prisoners had received at least one dose of vaccine, Coe said.
People can visit their incarcerated loved one once a month for one hour, which allows time for as many people as possible to get time to visit while the department maintains COVID-19 safety measures, Coe said.
Visits are scheduled by cohort, which groups prisoners together based on their assigned living unit to avoid potential outbreaks spreading beyond a unit, Coe said. All visitors must pass an in-person COVID-19 screening which includes questions about symptoms and temperature checks, Coe said.
Mattlani Walker, a cofounder of advocate group Families of the Incarcerated, said she’s heard from dozens of parents whose kids have been waiting to hug their incarcerated father or mother.
“We really need to focus on our future and that is the kids,” Walker said. “And they need both parents in their lives even if their father or mother is incarcerated.”
Walker said, through connecting with state Rep. Jenny Graham, she’s hoping to push for an earlier date for visitations that would allow for children to hug their parents.
Last month, Graham wrote a letter signed by more than 20 lawmakers from both parties advocating for visitation to open up.
Tyffani Murillo in Arlington, Wash., said her 10- and 13-year-old daughters with Christopher Baker haven’t seen their dad at Washington State Penitentiary since the pandemic’s start. Her youngest daughter turned 10 on May 25 and was “so upset,” Murillo said.
“They just want to see him and hug him,” Murillo said.
Coe didn’t give a date for in-person visits to begin again, but said the department will continue to monitor conditions and move forward based on local case numbers and guidance from the CDC and state health officials.
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