As family and friends gather for the holidays, more than 19,000 prisoners in Mississippi are now able to receive in-person visits with their loved ones. Families with incarcerated loved ones said they are adjusting during the holiday season.
On November 1, the Mississippi Department of Corrections re-opened visitation for incarcerated people at all state and regional prisons. The change was just in time for the busy holiday season.
"It’s actually a very difficult time for me," Rebecca Ellis said.
Ellis lives in Gulfport with her children, and her husband is incarcerated in Woodville at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, a private prison. She said the last time she visited him was in May for two hours.
"I was excited. I was glad to see him, and I just wish I had more time with him," Ellis said.
In March 2020, when COVID-19 hit Mississippi, the state shut down all prison visits. In May 2021, after prisoners had been vaccinated, visitation re-opened. But the delta variant surge caused MDOC to close visits again in July. Visitations resumed in November after the spread of the virus calmed down. Now, MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain said visits are here to stay, unless health officials recommend otherwise.
"Just really trying to hopefully open on up because we have the holiday season coming. We’re going to work it out, let you visit because it’s good for the families’ morale. It’s good for the inmates’ morale." Cain said.
Studies show this is true. According to research gathered by the Prison Policy Initiative, prisoners who receive in-person visits have better health, better behavior and are less likely to return to prison after being released. But a lack of visitation can have effects on both prisoners and their families.
"We may be in the free world, but we’re suffering too. We’re suffering not being able to do any daily activity with them," Ellis said.
She said she’ll make the three-hour drive to visit her husband for one hour in January. This will be the first time Ellis has seen him in months, and the only time she’s able to visit him during the holiday season.