Lawsuit filed over coronavirus outbreak at Arkansas prison
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Arkansas of not taking adequate steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its prisons after a third of the inmates at one facility tested positive.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Arkansas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of nearly a dozen inmates, including three at the Cummins Unit. Officials on Tuesday said 670 inmates and at least 10 staff at the facility have tested positive.
“The prison crisis in this pandemic is a ticking time bomb that will have ramifications throughout Arkansas when it fully explodes — and this time bomb will undoubtedly explode without court intervention,” the groups’ lawsuit said.
Health officials on Tuesday reported the total number of cases in Arkansas has risen to at least 2,227 cases. The state reported one additional death, bringing its total to 43. The statewide total doesn’t include all of the Cummins cases because of a lag in adding them to the state’s database, health officials said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters he was still reviewing the lawsuit, but defended the state’s response to the outbreak at the prison. A health department spokeswoman said about 1,400 inmates at the facility have been tested.
“They’re going to extraordinary lengths to make sure the inmates are having the proper health protocols in that environment,” Hutchinson said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The lawsuit claims inmates in the state’s prisons frequently lack ready access to sanitizer, soap, cleaning products and personal protective equipment.
The lawsuit on Tuesday seeks the release of disabled inmates at high risk of contracting coronavirus or for them to be transferred to home confinement. It also asks the court to appoint an expert to recommend how many prisoners can be housed at each prison in order to follow federal guidance on preventing the spread of the virus.
Hutchinson on Tuesday also named a working group to make recommendations on way to expand the state’s coronavirus testing capacity. The governor has said he hopes to lift some of the state’s restrictions on May 4, but has not said which ones he’d like to ease.
Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak