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North Dakota prison system reopens for in-person visitation

Exactly one year after the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation originally went into lockdown upon the discovery of North Dakota's first virus case, the prison system announced that it would reopen for visitors again.

The North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck. Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — All North Dakota prisons will reopen for in-person visitation later this month while keeping some COVID-19 precautions in place, according to a statement released Friday, March 12, by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Exactly one year ago , the department went into its first pandemic lockdown after North Dakota reported its first confirmed coronavirus case. Department officials Friday acknowledged some risk in the decision to reopen for visitation but laid out requirements to mitigate the chances of the virus reaching inmates.

Visitation is scheduled to resume at the beginning of the week of March 29.

"Visitation during this time can make us vulnerable, but we are aware of the risks and have specific guidelines in place to prevent, as much as possible, any illness from entering our facilities," the Department's Interim Director Dave Krabbenhoft said in the statement. "We know it has been an extremely tough year on everyone by suspending in-person visitation early on; we are excited to welcome friends and family back in to visiting their loved ones."

Under the new visitation policy, guests must receive a negative COVID-19 test within five days of a visit, wear an N-95 mask and pass temperature screenings to be admitted. The department is allowing one adult per visitation and will share the identities of all visitors with the Department of Health to aid in contact tracing.

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The department relaxed its visitation policy early last summer before tightening it again.

Both North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck and the James River Correctional Center in Jamestown saw a spike in cases during the state's virus surge last October and November, but cases have fallen dramatically in the months since.

A total of 633 inmates have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. One inmate in his 60s died of the coronavirus in December , the lone COVID-19 death in the state prison system, according to the department.

The department reports that a total of 918 inmates have received a first dose of vaccine, while none have received their second dose.

Readers can reach Forum reporter, Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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