A CLOSER LOOK: COVID-19 and prisons — deaths, contraband, vacancies

A Closer Look

40th COVID-related inmate death; he was in his mid-80s

May 30, 2013. An inmate uses the recreation room of one of the housing units at a Correctional Center in Elk Grove, Calif. California’s high-tech solution to rid prisons of illegal cellphones may be unable to keep up with advances in technology quickly enough, so state officials have stopped plans to expand it to more prisons, officials told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) has had more than 9,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).

The ADC reported its most recent inmate death on Wednesday, September 23, happened at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock. The Pine Bluff Unit inmate “was undergoing treatment for COVID-related symptoms,” according to ADC. He was in his mid-80s.

The ADC reports more than 6,000 COVID recoveries.


  • Benton Work Release
  • Central Arkansas Community Correction Ctr.
  • Cummins
  • Ester
  • Grimes
  • McPherson
  • Maximum Security Unit
  • Omega
  • Ouachita River Correctional
  • Pine Bluff Unit
  • Varner
  • Wrightsville facilities

The pandemic has forced the continued suspension of inmate visitations at all state prisons and community correction centers at least through October 1, according to ADC.


ADC Secretary Solomon Graves appreciated a letter Arkansas Senators Tom Cotton and John Boozman sent on September 17 to the Federal Communications Commission about the “widespread use” of cell phones in prisons.

“Additional action to curb the use of contraband cellphones in correctional facilities is overdue. At stake is the safety of the 6,000 brave men and women who make up the Arkansas Department of Corrections family. We see every day the dangerous ramifications of inmates using contraband cellphones to conduct illegal activities and engage in extortion and fraud schemes from inside the walls of our units. Already this year, the Department has confiscated over 900 contraband cellphones. We cannot allow inmates to continue to victimize the public from their cells with cellphones. Arkansas families should not have to endure seeing social media posts and texts from inmates who have been convicted of perpetrating crimes against them.”

ADC Solomon Graves

More than 7,000 contraband cellphones have been confiscated since April 2017 (ADC, source).

According to the ADC release, Graves would like for the FCC to address the following:

  • Remove legal hurdles that require phone carriers to obtain court orders before disabling contraband cellphones. Wireless carriers should be required to immediately disable a cellphone device when authorities identify a contraband device
  • Support the use of geofencing, quiet zones, network-based solutions, and beacon technology
  • Expand studies on how prisons can safely use jammers and micro-jammers, including the creation of regulatory guardrails that would assure this technology is strictly limited to a facility’s boundaries
  • Change licensing and authorization processes to allow wireless carriers to voluntarily block their own signals and comply with federal law


The state’s prison population has decreased, mainly due to COVID-19, but job vacancies at the corrections division have increased since December 2019.

ADC has 889 vacancies according to the Secretary’s July report (which has June data) and there were 604 vacancies in December 2019.

ADC December 2019 to July 2020 Secretary’s Board Report data


  • The pandemic unemployment benefits made it more lucrative for a potential applicant to stay at home
  • DOCs nationally have seen difficulty recruiting during the pandemic. Our biggest hiring periods are normally in the summer months
  • Routine terminations have not been offset with new hires
  • We have been unable to attend or present recruitment events

COVID-19 continues to impact the entire Natural State.

Twenty more deaths were reported on Wednesday for a cumulative total of 1,079. This number does not include at least 135 “probable deaths” as a result of COVID.

There have been 77,963 cumulative cases with more than 67,500 recoveries, according to ADH.

Arkansas Department of Corrections to resume intakes; streamlines lab testing

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