*

Scott Loftis

From the Editor

Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com

Opinion

Can we get a straight answer?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

How, exactly, was an Arkansas prison parolee carrying the COVID-19 virus released from state custody?

It depends on whom you ask, and that inconsistency may be the most disturbing aspect of a very disturbing scenario.

So many facts are in question regarding parolee Jad Perkins. We know he was released from the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit in Lincoln County on April 20. We know that he came to Carroll County and that he tested positive for COVID-19 after his arrival here.

We know that he was ultimately arrested for allegedly violating the conditions of his parole, that he spent approximately 24 hours inside the Carroll County Detention Center, and that he then was returned to state custody.

What we don’t know for certain — because we’ve gotten different answers from different state officials, is whether Mr. Perkins was actually tested for COVID-19 before he was released.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith both said during a news conference last week that all inmates released from state prison are tested before they are set free. According to Hutchinson and Smith, Mr. Perkins tested negative before his release.

But Solomon Graves, the chief of staff for DOC Secretary Wendy Kelly, said via email last week that inmates receive a “COVID19 Symptoms Screening immediately prior to their release.” That screening includes a temperature check, according to Graves, and the Department of Health is contacted regarding testing for inmates who display symptoms of COVID-19. What Graves’ email doesn’t say, but certainly seems to imply, is that inmates who don’t exhibit symptoms are released as scheduled with no further examination.

So, either Mr. Perkins tested negative, or he displayed no symptoms and was simply released.

If the former is the actual case, I can understand. But if the latter is the real truth, then I’m furious. We know that hundreds of inmates at the Cummins Unit have COVID-19. We also know that most of them are asymptomatic.

Gov. Hutchinson has gone to great lengths to draw a distinction between confirmed cases in the general population and those in correctional facilities. His point seems to be that the cases in correctional facilities are confined and far less likely to contribute to “community spread.”

That’s probably true, until you start releasing infected inmates into the community with nothing more than a fever check. The people of Carroll County and the people of Arkansas deserve better.

We deserve accountability, and we deserve a consistent answer.