The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Arkansas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the lawsuit in federal court in April on behalf of the inmates, claiming the prison was not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to rise within the state of Arkansas, the number of recoveries in the Arkansas prison system is increasing.

At one point the source of the largest outbreak in Arkansas was Cummins Unit which led to a civil rights group to file a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Arkansas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the lawsuit in federal court in April on behalf of the inmates, claiming the prison was not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

Since then the cases at Cummins Unit have decreased as most of the inmates listed as asymptomatic, have recovered.

Documents provided to the Pine Bluff Commercial from the Arkansas Department of Health report a total of 3,626 positive inmates with 2,571 recovered and 13 inmates who have died.

Staff numbers have totaled 575 positives with 210 recoveries and one staff member who has died.

According to the report Cummins Unit had a total of 993 positive inmates with 952 recoveries so far. All 67 staff members have recovered. Eleven inmates have passed away.

Varner Unit had two staff members test positive who have fully recovered.

The reports shows Randall L. Williams –Pine Bluff Unit with full recoveries of all 286 inmates and all 18 staff members who were positive. One inmate did pass away.

In another report released at the end of June, the ACLU and Prison Policy Initiative evaluated the actions of each state’s response to save incarcerated people and facility staff from COVID-19.

ACLU efforts are to cut the nation’s jail and prison populations by 50% and challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The Campaign is building movements in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America.

Arkansas received a failing grade, F+, in a new ACLU report grading all 50 states’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons and jails. The report, titled “Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons,” shows that, despite having ample time and information to take the steps necessary to heed the warnings of experts and save the lives of those incarcerated in their prisons and jails, state governments across the country refused to adequately address the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses in jails and prisons. The new report explains how each state ignored the pleas of incarcerated people and the warnings of medical experts. 

“This report affirms what we already knew: Arkansas state officials have utterly failed to protect the people in their custody – putting all Arkansans at risk,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The rampant outbreaks in Arkansas prisons and jails disproportionately impact Black people, compounding the injustice of our racially biased criminal legal system. As Arkansas continues to face a worsening COVID-19 outbreak, releasing people from these dangerous conditions is vital to protecting public health and saving lives.” 

In Arkansas, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project, more than 2,301 people incarcerated in state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, the 8th highest in the country. Eleven incarcerated people have died.

To assess the degree to which each state has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the particular threat of viral infection behind bars, they looked at whether:

●The state Department of Corrections provided testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) to correctional staff and the incarcerated population.

●The state reduced county jail populations and state prison populations.

●The governor issued an executive order —or the Department of Corrections issued a directive —accelerating the release from state prisons of medically vulnerable individuals and/or those near the end of their sentence.

●The state published regularly updated, publicly available data on COVID-19 in the state prison system.

The head of Arkansans’ prison system, Arkansas department of Corrections Secretary Wendy Kelley, announced Monday that she would be retiring at the end of July.

Kelley joined the Department of Correction in February 2006 as Deputy Director of Health and Correctional Programs. Before that, she served for 14 years as Deputy Attorney General of the civil department at the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.

Kelley served as the Director of the Arkansas Department of Correction from January 2015 until July 2019, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed her Secretary.

Kelley warned at a news conference in April that if the virus got into one of the state’s prisons it would be disastrous. The department did not immediately say who would serve as interim secretary following Kelley’s retirement.