A CLOSER LOOK: Federal prison in Arkansas busy with pandemic & unexpected inmate relocations

A Closer Look

The federal prison system ... trying to keep it safe during COVID-19

In this photo taken May 26, 2009, the Federal Prison Forrest City, Ark., is shown. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The Federal Bureau of Prisons is dealing with a one-two punch: a pandemic and completing a prison evacuation.


Arkansas’ federal prison is considered a “hot spot for COVID-19,” the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal said. Currently, the agency is getting help from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to test inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City (FCI Forrest City).

More than 2,000 inmates are housed there. Forty-two inmates and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to BOP’s website.

KNWA/FOX24 knows of one inmate at FCI Forrest City, who was scheduled for release at the end of April, after serving his full eight-year sentence, but that won’t happen because of the pandemic and BOP testing guidelines.


All inmates releasing or transferring from BOP facilities to the community will be placed in quarantine for 14 days prior to their scheduled departure from the institution. If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution will notify the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing.  Institution staff may also coordinate with local Health Department authorities to minimize exposure with the public upon release.  Transportation that will minimize exposure will be used, with an emphasis on transportation by family and friends, and inmates will be supplied a cloth facial covering to wear.

BOP explained “inmate isolation”: If an inmate is asymptomatic, they are placed in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.  If symptomatic for COVID-19, the inmate must be placed in isolation until they test negative for COVID-19 or are cleared by medical staff as meeting CDC criteria for release from isolation.  All institutions have areas set aside for quarantining and isolation. 


Inmates at South Carolina’s FCI Estill Prison, in Hampton County, were evacuated because of a tornado that struck on Monday, April 13.

Although, FCI Estill took a direct hit, no one was injured, but the buildings were damaged.

“Last week we successfully moved 932 inmates from the FCI and adjacent satellite camp to USP Lewisburg [Pennsylvania],” said Carvajal, “all transfers were completed on Friday [April 17].” The distance between the two institutions is 735-miles and is more than an 11-hour drive.

This 4/22 from BOP’s Dir. Carvajal explains how the prison evacuation was handled and getting new inmates safely checked in.

Carvajal said guidelines continue to be updated according to what the CDC recommends. As of Wednesday, April 22, more than 60 of their institutions are impacted — to some degree — with COVID-19.

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