Prison union points to transfer inmates as root of Forrest City coronavirus outbreak

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FORREST CITY, Ark. — So far nearly 30 people at an Arkansas federal correctional facility, including both inmates and staff, have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to worries from inmates and the community.

Union representatives said the prison system’s lack of communication is leading to its downfall.

“I would love to tell you that I think they were 100% prepared, but I cannot wholeheartedly say that, said Brandy Moore, national secretary-treasurer for the Council of Prison Locals 33.

Moore said the public should expect to see more positive cases out of the Forrest City federal prison if things don’t change.

She said the union represents all 580 staff members at the prison.

Moore said many of them fear for their own health after dozens of people test positive for COVID-19, including 24 inmates and five staff members.

“They’re definitely terrified about exposing their families,” Moore said. “We have a lot of people that are staying in campers in their driveways, sleeping in tents in their garage.”

She said they think the cause of the outbreak may not have come from staff members, but inmates. Moore said transfer inmates are a major concern.

“At our medium facility, we had a bus last week, and off that bus, several inmates tested positive,” she said.

Moore said early-March, the Federal Bureau of Prisons sent out a memo stating there would no more movement or transfers of inmates into or out of the prison.

She said the union quickly learned just a week later, that was not the case.

“When we tried to address that, they basically told us that they have no control over the U.S. Marshals, who moves a lot of our inmates to and from facilities,” Moore said.

The bureau said in a statement that movement is down 81% compared to last year. By law, the bureau cannot refuse newly convicted inmates or inmates awaiting trial.

Those who are brought to the facility are placed in a 14-day quarantine.

Moore said while they understand not all movement can be stopped, they feel much of the movement is unnecessary.

“Our first positives came from inmates, and then we later had staff that tested positive,” she said.

Moore said they have discussed their concerns with the CDC.

She said her priority is not just to protect staff members, but inmates as well.

Moore said there are healthcare officials on-site working to pinpoint exactly where the outbreak started and how to control it.

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