Arkansas governor: Not considering prison releases over coronavirus concerns

FILE - In this April 10, 2019 file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo, File)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday indicated that he was not actively considering a release of at-risk inmates from state prisons due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

The Department of Corrections, which houses more than 15,000 inmates, has already halted visitation services due to the spread of the virus in the state, and begun placing new prisoners arriving from county jails in quarantine for two weeks, according to a prison spokeswoman.

Dina Tyler, the spokeswoman, said the department has not tested any inmates for coronavirus as of Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas on Wednesday wrote the governor, asking him to consider commuting the sentences of inmates with health issues and those already within a year of release.

Asked about the letter at a press conference Thursday, the governor said he felt the department had already taken appropriate actions, and was continuing to monitor the situation.

“I’m not aware of any particular problems with overcrowding,” Hutchinson said. “I think it’s being maintained properly.”

Hutchinson also noted that the Board of Correction maintains emergency powers to speed up the release of inmates due to crowding concerns. The board has taken such action in a regular basis over the past decade due to prisons operating beyond their capacity.