FORREST CITY, Ark. (WMC) - There has been a dramatic drop in the number of inmates infected with COVID-19 at an Arkansas prison.
However, some of those serving time at the facility, and their loved ones, don’t see the decrease as good news. Instead, it’s prompting questions and concerns.
The Investigators spoke with Jim Flannery, who said he’s lucky to be home after serving five months for a non-violent crime at the Forrest City Correctional Complex in Arkansas.
“I thought I was gonna die,” he said. “I have bronchitis, asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes. Watching TV, those are the people they thought this virus was going to kill.”
During his short time at low security facility, Flannery said he got sick.
“They swabbed me and told me I was going to another unit. I wasn’t going back to my original unit,” said Flannery. “What they ended up doing was taking me to the chapel and put me in with full-blown cases, these guys were seriously sick.”
According to the Bureau of Prisons’ website, 30 inmates at Forrest City Low currently have COVID-19. However, the number was much higher.
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have been tracking the number of cases inside the low security facility for months.
The numbers changed from 49 active cases on April 16, up to 442 on May 28, then 512 cases on June 8.
On June 17, there were 148 total cases. As of June 24, there were a total of 31 active cases.
The Investigators spoke with Michelle Brewer, who has a loved one inside Forrest City Low. She has watched the numbers of fluctuate.
“They’re up and down and they’re not adding up to what we’re being told,” she said. “It’s terrifying.”
A closer look at the numbers shows the Bureau of Prisons separates the number of positive inmates from the number of inmates who have recovered.
The total number of recoveries is currently 663.
“The BOP is saying there are more people recovered than there are sick. Does that give you any hope,” asked the Investigators.
“No,” said Brewer. “How do they know they’re not infected anymore? How do they know they’re really recovered?”
The Investigators wanted to know how the Bureau classifies inmates as ‘recovered.’
In an email, a spokesperson said they are using CDC guidance as their recovery criteria, which spells out when medical isolation should end for a person with COVID-19.
Flannery said the BOP is not re-testing inmates with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Forrest City Low before they’re released back into the general population.
“Believe me, the inmates were furious over that,” said Flannery.
“Are you concerned about inmates who are still in there,” asked the Investigators.
“Yes,” said Flannery. “There’s no way you can social distance yourself. You’ve got a bunkmate 3.5 feet on top of you sleeping on a top bunk if you’re on the bottom.”
We asked the BOP if they are re-testing inmates after they’ve been in medical isolation.
A spokesperson wrote in an email:
“With regard to release from isolation the BOP continues to follow CDC guidance, test-based strategies, as well as consultation with staff medical experts. Testing is still occurring at FCI Forrest City Low to manage the cases there.”