The Massachusetts Department of Corrections has announced a suspension of inmate visitations until the COVID-19 outbreak within the Commonwealth's 16-facility prison system can be brought under control. As is the case nationwide, COVID cases in Massachusetts have been on the upswing as the colder weather drives people indoors.

Last week, there were 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk. Test results were pending for 300 others. Nineteen cases were confirmed at MCI Shirley and one case at MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole. More than two dozen active cases involving correctional officers also were reported.

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson told me he stopped visits to the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth when the pandemic was first declared back in the spring. He said there were a total of 48 cases of COVID-19 between that time and July. Since July, he said there have been no cases among inmates or detainees confirmed at the lockup. Fewer than three dozen staff members have tested positive since the crisis began, Hodgson said.

Hodgson said inmates have been granted additional phone privileges to offset the loss of visits from loved ones. He also said protocols are in place to protect inmates and detainees from those who might have been in contact with the coronavirus. Hodgson said the inmates understand and, for the most part, have been supportive of the restrictions.

Doing time in the state or county lockup can't be much fun. It must be less fun when visitors from the outside world are not permitted. The suspension of visitations is necessary to protect the inmate population and jail employees from COVID-19. Many nursing home and hospital patients have endured the same restrictions for months.

This experience has not been easy for most and has required great sacrifice for many. Inmates are incarcerated to pay for their crimes against society. They also have a right to be protected from this virus just like everyone else. I am glad to see that the Bristol County House of Correction appears to be taking that mission seriously and successfully.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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