‘I want to know, is my child fine?’: Mother calls for more transparency for inmates at Cummins Unit

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A mother of an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 is asking the Arkansas Department of Corrections to give more information to families about the situation inside the Cummins Unit where more than 800 have tested positive.

“The inmates didn’t know who was sick and who wasn’t sick,” Arniece Baynard said.

Arniece Baynard’s son Demetris Brooks is one of 869 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Cummins Unit. Four inmates have died and six are hospitalized, with two on ventilators.

He has asthma, and Baynard worries he won’t be treated the right way if his symptoms worsen.

RELATED: Pine Bluff listed as coronavirus ‘hotspot’ despite chunk of cases outside city

“His [symptoms] was shortness of breath, feeling pain in his chest,” she said.

But her concerns don’t stop there. Over the weekend, inmates in one barracks next to her son’s became disruptive.

“They had started a fire and they were putting out windows,” Baynard said.

According to the department of corrections, staff used rubber bullets and chemical agents to regain control of the inmates. One inmate received a minor cut, but Baynard believes the incident could have been avoided if they were being treated right in the first place.

“He’s human. And that’s what makes a lot of those guys act out because they don’t have a way to let this pressure off,” she said.

Baynard said her son and other inmates are also complaining about the lack of proper meals since the outbreak.

“They just made bologna sandwiches and just tossing them in there to them. And wasn’t giving them any drinks,” she said.

RELATED: 4 Arkansas prison inmates die from coronavirus, officials say

The Arkansas Department of Corrections said all meals are still meeting nutritional needs but quote “deviations are allowed based on kitchen inventories.” Director Dexter Payne also said it is taking longer to distribute meals because they have to deliver trays to more than 1800 inmates.

“The inmates there are receiving three meals, just as they have before. So there’s no real change other than the length of time it takes to feed those inmates,” Payne said.

Baynard said she receives no updates from Cummins about these issues, and just wants them to be more transparent with families.

“We’re not asking for you to break down no chains and no doors. We want to know is my child fine? Is he okay? Can you get a message to him?” she said.