LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK)– Governor Asa Hutchinson announced close to 350 inmates in a state prison have tested positive for COVID-19. Now state officials are working to stop the spread in its tracks while looking at ways to prevent this kind of outbreak at other correctional facilities across Arkansas.
COVID-19 spread like wildfire through the cells of the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County. According to Gov. Hutchinson, there have been close to 1,400 inmates tested. Of those, 348 tested positive and they are waiting on more than 700 results.
“The numbers we will have coming out of Cummins dwarfs what we’re having state wide,” Hutchinson said.
Working to keep the numbers from multiplying, state officials are weeding out those confirmed cases.
“We have eight positive barracks within Cummins and we have seven negative barracks,” Hutchinson said.
This outbreak has also sparked conversation about how to prevent something like this from happening at another facility.
“It’s a matter of looking ahead and planning,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said it all comes down to identifying the positive cases early and separating them from the rest of the inmates.
“We have to have some empty spaces for that,” Hutchinson said.
To empty up those cells, Hutchinson has asked the Arkansas Department of Corrections and the parole board to review all non-violent offenders and non-sex offenders who are up for release in the next six months. That’s close to 2,000 inmates now being considered for early release.
“There’s public health concerns but there’s also public safety concerns,” Hutchinson said.
Gov. Hutchinson assures the public there will be a thorough review process before any inmates walk free.
“They will be screened by the parole board and the board of corrections from a public safety standpoint,” Hutchinson said.
The parole board is also looking at releasing those inmates who have chronic illnesses. No violent offenders or sex offenders will be considered for release.