A CLOSER LOOK: prison population and COVID-19

A Closer Look

Positive COVID-19 inmates have been isolated

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas has nearly 100 positive COVID-19 cases at two prisons as of Tuesday, April 14.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas (85 miles east of Little Rock) — the state’s only federal prison — has 55 COVID-19 cases. Federal authorities will take the lead in responding to this outbreak. The prison population there is estimated at 1,900.

A barrack at the Cummins Unit state prison has 44, of 47, inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, state officials reported during Tuesday’s daily briefing.

The first inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 was on April 12. The Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) said the inmate was going to be tested at the Cummins Unit, “but, before the test could be given, he was taken to the hospital where he was tested/diagnosed,” according to the ADC. The inmate is still hospitalized.

Arkansas Department of Corrections Division Director Dexter Payne said the goal is to prevent the spread of the virus, “and to provide the safest environment possible.”

To prevent cross-contamination Payne said the positive inmates have been isolated, all employees and inmates have face masks and “we’re expanding beyond the barracks there for testing.”

In four days, positive COVID-19 cases for inmates go from zero to 61

(L) ADC Friday, April 10 / (R) ADC Tuesday, April 14. Tuesday’s data includes the Central Arkansas Center residential facility in Little Rock. Src: Twitter posts.


According to the Department of Justice Arkansas’ state prison population was 17,716 in 2017 (data given by the Bureau of Justice Statistics) and expenditures for the Department of Corrections was $346 million at their more than 20 facilities. The cost to house an inmate is a bit more than $22,000 a year. Pulaski County had the most percentage of convictions at 14% (1,391), followed by Sebastian County at 8% (832) and Washington County at 6% (562) .

  • Barbara Ester Unit, Pine Bluff. Capacity 580, avg. daily population 430 FY17; 158 employees
  • Benton Unit, Saline County. Capacity 325, avg. daily population 330 FY17; 75 employees
  • Cummins Unit, Lincoln County. Capacity 1,876, avg. daily population 1,914 FY17; 462 employees. As of April 13, 44 of 47 inmate – at a single barrack – have tested positive
  • Delta Region Unit, Chicot County. Capacity 610, avg. daily population 620 FY17 ; 178 employees.
  • East Arkansas Regional Unit, Lee County. Capacity 1,624, avg. daily population 1,677 FY17; 375 employees
  • Grimes Unit, Jackson County. Capacity 1,012, avg. daily population 1,076 FY17; 241 employees
  • J. Aaron Hawkins Sr. Center, Pulaski County. Capacity 212; 80 employees
  • Maximum Security Unit, Jefferson County. Capacity 532, avg. daily population 540 FY17; 236 employees
  • McPherson Unit, Jackson County. Capacity 971,avg. daily population 996 FY17; 225 employees
  • Mississippi County Work Release Center, Mississippi County. Capacity 133, avg. daily population 143 FY17; 36 employees
  • North Central Unit, Izard County. Capacity 800, avg. daily population 831 FY17; 191 employees
  • Northwest Arkansas Work Release Center, Washington County. Capacity 100, avg. daily population 99 FY17; 29 employees
  • Ouachita River Unit, Hot Spring County. Capacity 1,837, avg. daily population 1,837 FY17; 471 employees
  • Pine Bluff Re-Entry Center, Jefferson County. Capacity 54; 10 employees
  • Pine Bluff Unit, Jefferson County. Capacity 430, avg. daily population 425 FY17; 167 employees
  • Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility, Jefferson County. Capacity 562, avg. daily population 556 FY17; 143 employees
  • Texarkana Regional Correction Center, Miller County. Capacity 128, avg. daily population 126 FY17; 30 employees
  • Tucker Unit, Jefferson County. Capacity 1,002, avg. daily population 1,009 FY17; 186 employees
  • Varner/Varner Supermax Unit, Lincoln County. Capacity 1,686, avg. daily population 1,719 FY17; 364 employees
  • Wrightsville Unit, Pulaski County. Capacity 850, avg. daily population 859 FY17; 204 employees


As of March 20, the Arkansas Department of Corrections Division of Community Correction suspended supervision fees and suspended face-to-face office visits. While visitations with inmates have been nixed, costs for video and cell calls to inmates have been reduced, according to Payne.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he is not considering temporarily releasing inmates or pushing up early parole dates as a result of the pandemic. “There is a reason that these inmates are in a maximum security unit.” However, he may be open to a change in plans should the new coronavirus spread “more broadly,” he said. 

The Prison Policy Initiative has outlined what other states are doing as a COVID-19 pandemic response. Click here.


  • 2.3 million are confined in prison or jail
  • 4.9 million were in state or federal prison
  • 19 million convicted of a felony
  • 77 million have a criminal record
  • 11,100 people are in federal prisons for immigration offenses
  • 13,600 are held in pretrial status by the U.S. Marshals.
  • 39,000 are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for undocumented immigrant status.

The Prison Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, was founded in 2001. The organization is known for its breakdown of incarcerations in the U.S. and its data analysis of how states vary in punishment.

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

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