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Health, Science & Environment

Video Visits At Utah State Prison Connect Incarcerated People And Their Loved Ones During The Pandemic

An illustration of two people in a video call conference.
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The Utah Department of Corrections has provided 10 free phone calls a week during the pandemic while in-person visitation has been paused. Now, the department is also offering video visits to people incarcerated at their facilities.

The last time Molly Logue Arthur saw her brother at the state prison in Draper was March 2020. She lives in Mesa, Arizona, which is a more than 10 hour drive away. So before the pandemic, she would only visit once a year.

In the past two months, they’ve seen each other twice over video.

“It was wonderful to actually see him again,” Logue Arthur said. “We had kind of just done annual visits in person. If I can see him every month, that's going to be really cool.”

They used a new video visitation program, which the Utah Department of Corrections recently made available to everyone incarcerated at the prison as well as the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.

Before that, prisoners only had contact with loved ones over the phone, since in-person visits have been canceled since the start of the pandemic.

The isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic have taken a toll on people’s mental health. Last month, the Huntsman Mental Health Institute reported 40% of adult Utahns have experienced anxiety or depression since the start of the pandemic.

Emily Salisbury is the director of the Utah Criminal Justice Center. The center’s research focuses on the intersection of social work and the criminal justice system.

She said anxiety can be compounded for people in prison who haven’t seen or physically touched their loved ones in a year.

“Consider the fact if you are a parent and you're not being able to see your children who have now aged a full year,” Salisbury said. “It can exacerbate mental health issues. Visitation is very much a sacred process for many incarcerated people.”

Spencer Turley, director of operations at the Draper location, said the new video program is a bright spot to come out of the past year. He said they intend to offer both in-person and video visitation in the future.

“This really gives us an opportunity to expand and to help meet the inmates’ needs,” Turley said. “[It] absolutely is a mental health boost for these inmates. We want to do what we can to support them, and so we do plan to keep this around long-term, long beyond COVID.”

The new state prison is set to open next year. Turley said it will have infrastructure built in to support video visits.

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