The ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense Fund have renewed and expanded their arguments for a federal court order to improve health conditions for state prison inmates during the coronavirus crisis, including preventing infected employees or those with symptoms from entering prisons.
The suit was filed on behalf of inmates at four units, including the Cummins prison, where more than 900 inmates and workers have been infected.
Federal Judge Kristine Baker turned down a request for a temporary restraining order early this week but held a further hearing Thursday at which more evidence was presented by plaintiffs, including allegations of use of non-EPA approved cleaning supplies, masks cleaned with eye irritants and general allegations of inadequate cleaning, testing and medical care.
The plaintiffs, also represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, filed Friday a 50-page request for relief, summarizing arguments and testimony in the hearings.
The filing asks that a special master be appointed to come up with a plan for spacing inmates and to identify inmates at risk because of age or health condition so that they might be released or transferred to home detention.
The filing also asks that the judge issue an order to:
1. Ensure that each incarcerated individual receives EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19 infection, without costs;
2. Ensure that all incarcerated individuals have access to hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol in specific locations or under the appropriate supervision of Arkansas Department of Corrections staff;
3. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including but not limited to doorknobs, light switches, sink handles, countertops, toilets, toilet handles, recreation equipment, kiosks, and telephones, at least three times a day with EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, as appropriate for the surface;
4. Conduct immediate testing for anyone displaying known symptoms of COVID-19 or upon request;
5. Ensure that individuals identified as having COVID-19 or having been exposed to COVID-19 are properly quarantined in a non-punitive setting, with continued access to showers, recreation, mental health services, hot meals during appropriate times, reading materials, commissary, phone and video visitation with loved ones, communication with counsel, and personal property;
6. Prohibit Arkansas Department of Corrections employees from entering Arkansas Department of Corrections facilities if they test positive for COVID-19 and/or exhibit symptoms of having contracted COVID-19;
7. Substantially comply with CDC guidance in all other respects, unless Defendants identify a specific reason why circumstances in one or more Arkansas Department of Corrections facilities render such substantial compliance unreasonable; and
8. Permit any Court-appointed special master or expert to freely visit Arkansas Department of Corrections facilities without advanced notice; to freely access relevant records maintained by the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including medical records of persons in custody provided the person whose medical records are accessed authorizes such access and inspection; and to freely contact, call, visit, and/or interview any person in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Correction facility within 24-hour notice.