As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the state, the prison system is taking steps to help flatten the curve. Arkansas Department of Corrections Communications Director Dina Tyler says some of the precautions include suspending visitations for up to 21 days, as well as furloughs. Tyler says the more that go out in the community, the greater chance something gets in the prisons. She says one move has made it a little easier for inmates to contact their families:
"We have reduced the phone rates so we can keep the family ties as close as possible. It will be less expensive for them to talk over the phone or visit with them through video visitation," said Tyler.
As for the state's prison workers, she says they go through a complete screening, including a temperature check. If there is a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they are sent home. She says they are treating this situation just like if there was an outbreak of the flu, stomach virus, or any other sickness. She says there are places to quarantine inmates if they are sick, as well as infirmaries that can take care of them as well. Tyler also says they are reducing the number of times that inmates are moved, so it will help with not brining the virus in the state's prisons.
"Anytime we do have to make a transfer and we are moving an inmate, we are taking their temperature and checking for symptoms. There is medical staff available all the time at the prisons."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas says those who are at the highest risk of catching the virus should be released from prison. Among the things they demand are for Governor Asa Hutchinson to immediately grant commutations to anyone who is vulnerable whose sentence is close to ending. Tyler says that can’t happen.
"The letter asks for commutations from the Governor. We can't just throw the doors open and say they are free. It is not that simple. We have to follow the law. We don't decide when they come to us, how long they stay, and when they go home. Those decisions are made by statutes, the parol board, and others," said Tyler.
She says there are some that are in prison that are non-violent offenders that act "horrbily" and reviews would have to be made on a case-by-case basis. She says the request is a big concern for state officials. You can review the ACLU of Arkansas' request here.