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ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas is sixth in the country for COVID-19 related cases among inmates in state prisons, and the state is eighth for most inmate deaths, according to data from the Marshall Project.

The state’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called this alarming. “…Arkansas state officials’ shameful failure to address the deadly public health crisis raging through our prisons,” said Arkansas’ ACLU Interim Executive & Legal Director Holly Dickson. “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 Marshall Project data gathered from state and federal prison agencies.


  • People incarcerated in Arkansas prisons and community corrections facilities have 3,789 cumulative cases and 2,970 prisoners have recovered.
  • By July 21, at least 70,717 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 10 percent increase from the week before.
  • New cases among prisoners reached an all-time high in mid-July after slowing down in June. The growth was driven by big jumps in prisoners testing positive in Texas, California, and the federal Bureau of Prisons as well as outbreaks in Idaho, Iowa, Oregon, and South Carolina.

Arkansas’ ACLU filed an amended complaint against state officials regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in the correctional facilities, it details the outbreak in the Cummins Unit — 11, of 27, inmate deaths have happened, since July 28.

Attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund are also working with the ACLU on the federal case on behalf of inmates at the Cummins, Varner, and Ouachita River Units.

Those named in the amended complaint are State Health Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health Nathaniel Smith and Wellpath, the private health care provider of the state’s correctional facilities. Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) were named in the initial complaint that was filed in April.

The ADC is aware of the Marshall Project report. The said they do significant more testing compared to other states. “We have tested over half of our population, while some states test only inmates who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19,” said ADC’s Communications Director Cindy Murphy.


Nationally, many prison employees are not systematically tested and making it difficult to assess the impact of the virus. Also, knowing the potential of employees bringing it into both facilities and the community, according to The Marshall Project.

ADC provides employee COVID information to the Arkansas Department of Health. As of Tuesday, July 28, there were 768 positive cases and 405 recoveries among them.

The Marshall Project reports 15,707 prison staff employees have tested positive and 54 deaths have been publicly reported across the country. The week of July 21st was the highest level of new cases and deaths since tracking the virus.

The Marshall Project said very little is known about how many staff are tested, but what they do know is, “in several states, prison employees began to get sick before the people they oversee.”