LITTLE ROCK – As national data shows Arkansas still leading the nation in per capita prison cases, civil rights groups challenging the Hutchinson administration’s handling of COVID-19 in state prisons assert state officials still lack a plan to protect people in state custody from contracting the virus. 

Arkansas remains number one in the country in prison coronavirus cases per capita and has the second highest number of deaths per capita in state prisons, as incarcerated people continue to report inadequate medical care and a lack of adequate cleaning supplies and PPE. 

At least 78% of the population at Ouachita River Unit, which houses highly vulnerable individuals, has been infected and 19 people have died. Close to or more than half of the people at 8 other facilities have also been infected (Benton, Central AR Community Correction, Cummins, East Arkansas Regional, Maximum Security, Pine Bluff, Varner, and Wrightsville). Nearly 400 corrections staff have been infected since the outset of the pandemic, and two have died. 

The state has touted its “widespread testing,” but such testing has only been conducted once, and the state continues only to detect outbreaks after-the-fact. In addition, while Arkansas officials have assured the public that everyone in state prisons is provided a mask, people in restrictive housing were not provided masks or face-coverings. 

“The Arkansas Department of Corrections still lacks an adequate, comprehensive plan to protect the people in its custody or prevent these outbreaks from spreading beyond the prison walls,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The outbreaks raging through our state prisons have already claimed 45 lives and sickened hundreds more, but state officials continue to demonstrate a callous disregard for human life and the well-being of their constituents. It is imperative that Governor Hutchinson and his administration take action now to prevent further loss of life and protect public health.” 

In July, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, Disability Rights Arkansas, the ACLU of Arkansas and attorney Laura Fernandez filed an amended complaint against Arkansas officials regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s correctional facilities, which disproportionately incarcerate Black individuals. 

More about the case is online at: https://www.acluarkansas.org/en/press-releases/ldf-aclu-arkansas-disability-rights-arkansas-and-co-counsel-file-amended-complaint