COVID-19 Hits Arkansas Prisons With Force

An outbreak of COVID-19 has hit Arkansas’s largest prison, and has acutely hit one barrack where 43 of 46 people who are incarcerated have tested positive for the virus. The Cummins Unit in Lincoln County is a 1,876-bed prison farm in southeast Arkansas’s Delta.

APRIL 2, Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley said, “It will be disastrous” once COVID-19 gets inside state prisons.

APRIL 8, state Rep. Jamie Scott (HD37 – North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Maumelle, Sherwood) wrote a letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson expressing profound concerns about the virus entering the state’s correctional system and harming staff and inmates. She recommended the Parole Board should immediately begin releasing those who have been granted parole and expedite new parole hearings; inmate cases within a year of eligibility for supervised release should be immediately considered; and the release of prisoners, with good behavior, who have served 90% of their time, or low-level offenders.

APRIL 11, the first state prisoner at Cummins tests positive.

April 13, 43 of 46 people incarcerated in a Cummins barrack test positive.

“The state of Arkansas has a responsibility to uphold when it comes to the people it incarcerates and that includes responding proactively to COVID-19,” said state Rep. Jamie Scott. “Immediate steps must be taken to protect this vulnerable, exposed population before things get even worse. We can’t ignore this situation, we must ensure their safety and the safety of everyone who works in correctional institutions.”
Rep. Vivian Flowers (HD 17 – Jefferson County) tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. 
“Arkansas has made some right moves responding to COVID but we have fallen short in having testing available. In particular, rural Arkansas has seen very little testing. The prison in Cummins, and the surrounding communities, are no exception,” said state Rep. Vivian Flowers. “We need to be proactive about this.The best thing we can do is thin out the prison population where it makes sense. We must arm our ADC officials and staff with the testing resources they need to get in front of this and prevent future outbreaks. We must ensure that these inmates, corrections officers, and their families have access to testing and quality healthcare. The people inside Arkansas prisons are our family members, our neighbors, and our loved ones. We must act quickly and boldly, and ensure the health of these communities and the people in our custody in the correctional system.”