COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), about 58% of their inmates have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

They said almost all of the 15,000+ inmates under their watch have been offered the vaccine. More than 8,300 have accepted vaccination and a little more than 6,100 have declined.

For the first time in more than a year, some of those 8,300 inmates who are vaccinated will be able to see their loved ones in person. This weekend, SCDC is starting their first phase of in-person visitation.

State prison officials said limited visitations will begin again at Palmer, Livesay, Goodman and Manning for vaccinated inmates only on June 19th.

SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said, “Having a population where the majority have had the vaccine is going to make a big difference on which institutions get in-person visits.”

He said vaccinations are instrumental to getting things back to normal in state prisons.

Stirling said, right now, unvaccinated inmates cannot have in-person visitations. He said this is to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their institutions. As of Monday, 3,354 total cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in state prisons dating back to 2020. Right now, there are 42 active cases.

Stirling said he understands the questions and concerns inmates may have surrounding the vaccine, “We can only do so much and encourage them and make the vaccine available. They’re adults so they have decisions to make on how they want to proceed.”

Michelle Hunter hasn’t seen her husband since March 2020. He’s at a medium security institution in the Midlands. She said it’s frustrating not knowing when she’ll see her husband again.

“That’s the only reason I got the vaccine. That’s the only reason he got it, so we could see each other,” she said.

Hunter said she’s worried about the mental health of other inmates in prisons who haven’t seen their loved ones in 15 months. She is eager to see her husband again, “I’ll be first in line when visitations open back up,” she said.

According to Stirling, they will phase in more institutions in the future for in-person visitations and have been looking at best practices from other states.