ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — “Dad, I’ve got to find some money because I’m so hungry.” Those words were said by one inmate at the Cummins Unit during a call Sunday night, April 26, according to his parents.
By 10 p.m. he was yet to have dinner — the meal disruption at the state prison started as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic in March.
The inmate’s hope is that with some money he can buy food at the commissary.
“[Dad], if they’re not going to feed us then let our families do it.”
The LB family, (who asked for their name(s) to be withheld because of safety concerns), is worried about COVID-19, but more concerned that their son, and other inmates are not getting enough food.
Families of inmates at the Cummins Unit collected signatures and have sent a letter to the governor and other state top brass in an effort to address the inconsistent meal patterns and food amounts given to inmates.
“He went in weighing 168 pounds and now weighs less than 140,” said his mother.
In mid-April, he went to the medical unit to get tested and was sent back to his cell. About a week later he was told he tested positive for COVID-19, according to information he gave his mother.
“He’s positive for COVID-19, has an underlying medical condition, shortness of breath, congestion and has a dry cough,” according to his mother.
On Monday, April 27, the governor reported during his daily COVID-19 briefing that 856 inmates have tested positive at the Cummins Unit, and six have been hospitalized — two at Jefferson City and four at UAMS.
The prison population at the Cummins Unit, in rural Lincoln County, is 1,725.
April 10 was the prison’s first reported positive COVID-19 case — just 17 days ago.
“HOW IS HE SUPPOSE TO GET BETTER IF HE DOESN’T HAVE THE PROPER NUTRIENTS?” ASKED LB
When my son gets two pieces of toast in 24 hours, it breaks my heart, LB said. “Breakfast was a half slice of bologna, a hard boiled egg and a dollop of oatmeal … and it was served at 2 a.m. … then lunch may be served at 2 p.m.”
Several Cummins Unit inmates have voiced similar “food concerns” to family members.
Another inmate wrote in an email, “This Unit is a cesspool of disease and confusion on the brink of hysteria and chaos.”
LETTER [in part]:
Request for restricted commissary to be lifted for health of prisoners during COVID-19 Panademic
We the families of the Arkansas Dept of Corrections Family Support Group would like to present evidence that the prisoners that are testing positive for Covid-19 are in desperate need of more nutrition than they are receiving. Those that are on restrictions from commissary are complaining of starving. Now is not the time to use food which is essential in the recovery of any illness and as documented below,for Covid-19, as punishment. During this mass outbreak all available means to help those stay healthy that are negative and help those who are positive recover should be utilized, and we as family are requesting that commissary restrictions on food be lifted until these prisoners are recovered.
The Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) said inmates are [properly] getting fed, but the process is a bit slower.
“We are having to feed one barracks at a time, which takes longer. We don’t want the inmates in one barracks to have contact with the inmates from another barracks,” said ADC’s Public Information Officer Dina Tyler.
The first night the new process started was Easter Sunday and it was the same night a storm hit, knocking out power.
Tyler explained, “electrical power was lost, and we had to run on generator power. The storm slowed us down even more. And that night, meals were very late.”
Quarantined inmates are having meals inside their barracks and officers in masks and gloves deliver the food. Tyler said, “only inmates and staff who did not test positive are in the kitchen prepping meals, and handling other kitchen/food related responsibilities.”
Tyler said food can be bought from the commissary, however, families of some inmates have said otherwise to KNWA/FOX24.
INMATE FOOD SERVICES PROGRAM
According to the Criminal Detention Facility Standards, Chapter XI FOOD SERVICE guidelines inmates shall be offered:
- Three meals daily, two which should be hot meals.
- Menus reviewed annually by a Registered or Certified Dietician
- Minimum daily calorie level for sedentary inmates shall be 2,300 calories, minimum calories for active inmates shall be 2,700
- Meals should be served at specific planned times
- Coffee, tea or milk or a suitable substitute as well as the appropriate condiments will be served with each meal.