AR: Reducing inmate population due to COVID-19 varies between jails and prisons

Coronavirus

FILE – In this file photo taken Sept. 8, 2009, an inmate cleans bars at a guard station in the maximum security unit at Tucker Prison near Tucker, Ark. Arkansas corrections officials say they will ask lawmakers next in 2015 for between $75 million and $100 million to build a new prison to ease overcrowding. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — In Arkansas, jails in two counties have cut the inmate population, but the prison population has had a minimal reduction.

Analysis done by the Prison Policy initiative shows across the U.S. jails have reduced its population to slow the spread of COVID-19. The data was gathered by the NYU Public Safety Lab. The Prison Policy report only shows 131 large jails.

  • Faulkner, Arkansas, the jail population was 433 and is now 180 (from 1/27/20 to 5/12/20) — a 59% reduction.
  • Washington County, Arkansas, the jail population was 714 and is now 362. (from 1/27/20 to 5/12/20) — a 49% reduction.

In Benton County, as of June 12, there are 420 inmates and the maximum the jail can hold is 700, according to Benton County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Shannon Jenkins.

Benton County deputies have made about 60 arrests from June 1 to June 10. Nearly 50% of people sent to jail was for “revoke of suspended sentence or probation,” according to a review of Benton County Detention Center’s website.

The jail remains COVID-19 free, according to Jenkins.

In Arkansas, the prisons have only reduced inmate population by 2% — from 17,759 to 17,331, according to the Vera Institute of Justice (VIJ). VIJ is a national, nonprofit, independent research and policy organization primarily based in New York.

During the pandemic, some states have refused to have people from county jails be admitted to prisons. At least four states are doing this: California, Colorado, Illinois, and Oklahoma. However, doing this makes it appear that prison populations are reduced.

Other states are moving people in prison to parole or home confinement, according to the report.

In Arkansas, 1,243 prison inmates were scheduled for early release. As of early May, 300 have been confirmed as released. On June, 1, the Arkansas Department of Corrections Parole Board and ADC Director Payne approved another 907 inmates for early release. ADC Spokesperson Cindy Murphy confirmed 642 have been released as of June 10.

ADC: 1,243 inmates considered for early release due to COVID

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