A CLOSER LOOK: controlling COVID-19 in jail settings

A Closer Look

Coma, heart surgery, stents, respiratory problems for detainee. "I was near death."

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The last time the Arkansas Department of Health reported COVID-19 cases for congregate settings for Washington County and Benton County jails was in August.

From July 7 to August 25, ADH reported 18 detainees and one employee COVID-19 positive cases at the Washington County jail.

From July 29 through August 17, ADH reported 189 detainees and three staff COVID-19 positive cases at the Benton County jail.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) issued a statement on October 26 about collaborating with Karas Correctional Health for COVID-19 testing.

Seven-hundred-fifty-five personnel and detainees were tested/swabbed for COVID-19. Forty detainees and nine employees tested positive for the virus and they are being quarantined according to ADH guidelines. “There have been no COVID-19 related deaths at the jail,” said WCSO Spokesperson Kelly Cantrell.

Currently, another problem has happened, detainees have filed grievances about not getting mail. On Wednesday, October 28, the WCSO explained via Facebook.

“The WCSO uses Tech Friends to process and post mail for detainees. We checked with the company and we’re able to determine they had an issue with their system starting on October 6, 2020. The system had been rejecting all postal mail delivered to the Washington County Detention Center. Tech friends are actively working on correcting the problem and are currently in the process of reloading all rejected mail. The rejected mail should start arriving at our facility today, 10/28/20.”



The Benton County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) issued a statement on September 7 that approximately 600 people were tested for COVID-19, “5 employee(s) and 50 detainees tested positive and all were asymptomatic.”

As a follow-up to the September memo, on Monday, October 26, BCSO told KNWA/FOX24 that the jail has “one confirmed [COVID-19 person], asymptomatic,” BCSO Spokesperson Lt. Shannon Jenkins.

Temperatures are taken twice daily, pods are sanitized every four days, and they [detainees] are given cleaning supplies twice a day to clean pods and cells. “We strive to provide the safest environment for our detainees with the current population,” said Jenkins.

Currently, the jail population is 615 and no one has died as a result of the virus, according to Jenkins.

As of October 23, neither detention center is listed on the ADH’s congregate settings report. Note, the date of the report is October 16 but reflects data from the 23rd.


A detainee sent the above message to a family member on October 24.

“An inmate was transferred from another facility around June 20th to the Washington County Detention Center, was tested for COVID-19, and his result showed he was negative for the virus.

The inmate told a family member that other men who also transferred were not quarantined upon arrival.

“The male inmates were in and out of this POD during the 14-day quarantine,” said the woman who asked for anonymity. “A few days ago, they were transferred to a different POD and yesterday [Tuesday, July 7] half of them have now tested positive for COVID.”

Another concern is the temperature of the POD, it’s quite warm. “Heat can kill the virus … but not in a room of 14 infected men,” she said.

Sanitation. “Inmates do not have anything to keep their areas clean, or soap to wash their hands after using the restroom.”

The detainee has underlying health conditions. He told her he felt sick and let the correction officer (CO) know. “The CO’s response was, ‘you’re talking to me, so you’re breathing,'” she said the detainee told her.”

WCDC detainee 7/2020


“A Northwest Arkansas man was at the Benton County jail in June, arrested on drug charges. By August he was transported to Mercy Hospital because of COVID-19.

This week he was released from the hospital after having been in a coma, heart surgery, stent implants, and respiratory problems. He’s now on several prescribed medications and recuperating at home.

The former detainee, in his 30s, said he told Benton County jail personnel about not feeling well and that they put him off. “They told me it was nothing, ‘you’re puttin’ on,’ and, ‘you’re sick because of ulcers,'” he said.

He was given medication while incarcerated, but it didn’t help. When he arrived at the hospital blood clots had developed in his lungs, possibly causing him to go into cardiac arrest, he said.

His mom, who asked for her name to be withheld, said it’s been a long four-months — inclusive of the hospital, and rehab stay. “He was not supposed to come out of this alive … he did, by the will of God … it’s been a long struggle.”

All hospital costs are covered by Medicaid, but they’re not sure how they’ll cover the costs of medications, they said.

“Now, they [law enforcement] want to send him to prison for the gun charge,” according to his mom. “He’s in no shape. He’ll die if that happens,” she said.

Former jail detainee and mom phone interview 10/29/2020

A current detainee said he arrived at the jail in early 2020 in fine health but now has fluid in his lungs, is using an inhaler, and has pneumonia. “I’ve been given two antigen tests and both have come back as negative for COVID-19,” he said.

He claims the pods are overcrowded, and where he is locked up the cell has only been sanitized twice a month — for at least the last six months.

Jenkins gives a different description of jail sanitation with respect to COVID-19. As for the inmate’s health claims she said, “this is not accurate and I cannot comment further on his medical condition. He is under doctor(s) care.”

Current jail detainee, email interviews June – October 2020.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Video

FOX24 Video


More News

Local News Video


More Don't Miss

Trending Stories

Follow KNWA & FOX24 on Facebook

get the app

News App

Weather App

Follow @KNWAFOX24 on Twitter

Mega Millions & Powerball Numbers