CDCR Secretary statement on visiting

The biggest challenge to face all of us this year has undoubtedly been the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected our daily lives, and for our prisons, it has impacted our normal operations, including in-person visiting.

It is not lost on me that families and friends have not been able to see their loved ones face-to-face since March. Reopening for in-person visiting has been and continues to be a top priority for me. That’s why the department put together a reopening plan that will guide each of our 35 institutions to safely reopen through a multi-phased approach.

Just three weeks ago, we had the lowest number of COVID-19 cases, 283, in the incarcerated population since April, and we were working toward reopening in-person visiting with some limitations. However, our numbers have been steadily rising, just like they have in the rest of the state. As of today, we are above 1,400 cases across the system.

Based on the recommendation of public health and health care partners, including the court-appointed federal Receiver, in-person visiting at CDCR institutions remains suspended at this time. Our health care professional partners deemed in-person visiting too risky due to the increase in COVID-19 both in our institutions, and across the state. Additionally, just today, California issued travel advisories, asking residents to stay local, and recommending 14-day quarantines for any inter-state travel. While this is a difficult decision to make, it is the right decision. We cannot put the health of our staff, incarcerated population, and the family and friends they care so deeply about, at risk by opening in-person visiting before it is safe to do so.

As a wife and mother, I can only begin to imagine what the last eight months have been for families who have not been able to see each other. I know how important family connections are during this difficult time, and we are working diligently to launch video visiting at a small number of institutions by the end of the month, with the goal of expanding system-wide by the end of the year. 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. Additionally, communication via phone remains available, with two free calls being offered per month.

Video visiting and telephone communications are not and will never be a replacement for in-person visits. The resumption of visits has been a top priority since I took the helm of the department in October, and we will continue to work toward reopening safely, in collaboration with public health experts, in a way that is safe for all involved.

CDCR has been very transparent in our response to COVID-19, updating our website regularly and providing numerous updates to our stakeholders. We will continue to communicate openly on our COVID-19 efforts.

(Visit CDCR’s COVID-19 webpage.)