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Judge rejects Arkansas inmates’ bid for more virus steps

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In this Monday, April 20, 2020 photo, Nurse Tonya Green talks with a patient at Arkansas Surgical Hospital’s drive-through covid-19 testing site at the New Life Church in North Little Rock. The location is back at the church this week after operations at the hospital last week. (Staton Breidenthal/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an effort to require Arkansas to release inmates at high risk of contracting the coronavirus and to take other steps to curb the virus’s spread in its prisons.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied the motion for preliminary injunction filed by a group of inmates who said the state hasn’t done enough to prevent the virus’ spread. The lawsuit was filed in response to an outbreak at one prison, the Cummins Unit, where 951 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus and eight have died from the illness caused by the virus.

Health officials say 231 inmates at a second prison, the Randall Williams Unit, have also tested positive for the virus.

The lawsuit sought the release of elderly or disabled inmates at high risk of contracting the coronavirus or for them to be transferred to home confinement. Baker said federal law prevents her from ordering such releases before the inmates have exhausted administrative remedies.

Baker noted that as of May 7 the state had released 300 inmates early as a precaution during the pandemic.

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