California to begin allowing video visits at 5 state prisons by Thanksgiving weekend

San Quentin State Prison in Marin County is seen in an undated photo. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

San Quentin State Prison in Marin County is seen in an undated photo. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

After suspending in-person visitation during the coronavirus outbreak, state prison officials said Friday they will offer video visits at five adult prisons by the end of November.

The program will roll out Nov. 28 at San Quentin State Prison, the California Institution for Men in Chino, Mule Creek State Prison, Valley State Prison and the Central California Women’s Facility, according to a news release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Eligible prisoners will each get a free, 30-minute video visit every 30 days. The visits will be scheduled on weekends and holidays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Authorities hope to expand the service to all state prisons by the end of this year, said CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison.

“Since families cannot connect in-person yet, I want them to be able to connect in real-time, and see and talk to one another remotely until in-person visiting can safely reopen,” Allison said in a written statement.

Allison says the resumption of in-person visits has been a “top priority” since she took the helm of the agency last month. But with incarcerated populations among the most vulnerable to outbreaks, when that will be able to happen remains unclear.

Prisoners are also being given two free phone calls a month while coronavirus restrictions are in place.

For video conferencing, visitors must be approved before they can make an appointment. Click here for a guide to scheduling the visits.

Video visits will be conducted over the Cisco Webex app. CDCR says the communication will be secure and encrypted, and only approved visitors will be able to join the visit. Instructions on how to use the app are here.

For prisoners, designated visiting areas will be equipped with laptop and desktop computers for them to use. Officials say COVID-19 protocols, such as physical distancing and sanitation, will be maintained in those rooms.

Normal visits were suspended in the California prison system on March 11. At the beginning of April, officials began offering video visits within the youth prison system.

For more information on state prison visitation during COVID-19, click here.

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