ACLU of Arkansas is calling for stronger action from state officials to save lives in state custody

LITTLE ROCK – The ACLU of Arkansas today reiterated its call for state officials to take stronger action to combat the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons in light of national data showing Arkansas’s prison system has the highest per capita number of COVID-19 infections in the country. The data, compiled by the Marshall Project, shows that Arkansas also has the 5th highest number of deaths per capita among prison systems in the US.

“These numbers are another alarming reminder of Arkansas state officials’ shameful failure to address the deadly public health crisis raging through our prisons,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas interim executive director and legal director. “Lives are at stake and Governor Hutchinson and the DOC must take stronger action – now – to protect the vulnerable people in their custody from contracting this disease. The state’s disregard for the human lives in it’s care has had devastating and deadly consequences, especially for people of color who are disproportionately incarcerated and brutalized by this broken system.” 

Among the facts collected by the Marshall Project: 

  • People incarcerated in Arkansas prisons and community corrections facilities are infected with COVID-19 at a rate 1,715% higher than the rest of the state.
  • People incarcerated in Arkansas prisons and community corrections facilities are dying of COVID-19 at a rate 1,010% higher than the rest of the state.
  • People who work for the Arkansas Department of Corrections are infected with COVID-19 at a rate 458% higher than the rest of the state.

On July 15, the ACLU of Arkansas and civil rights groups filed an amended complaint against Arkansas officials regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s correctional facilities, which disproportionately incarcerate Black individuals. The number of incarcerated people infected with COVID-19 has increased over 400% since the initial complaint was filed on April 21, 2020, with viral outbreaks now in multiple facilities.

The amended complaint provides further details on the COVID-19 outbreak in Cummins Unit, a state prison, as well as several other facilities. It also adds named plaintiffs who are incarcerated in additional facilities. Moreover, the amended complaint names Nathaniel Smith, Director and State Health Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health, and Wellpath, a private health care provider contracted to provide medical services in state’s correctional facilities, as defendants, in addition to existing defendants Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Corrections (DOC) officials.