Approximately 350 inmates at the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction were sick Monday afternoon and prison officials say they’re not sure if the cause is a virus or food poisoning.
Prison spokeswoman Shea Wilson said the prisoners are sick with vomiting and diarrhea and are being fed chicken broth and water to keep them hydrated.
The illness is affecting only the Tucker Unit and not the Tucker Maximum Security Unit, which are located near each other but are separate facilities.
Wilson said prison officials noticed Friday that several inmates were sick and displaying vomiting and diarrhea, but the vast majority of the cases were discovered Sunday when officials went to feed the inmates breakfast at 3:30 a.m.
She said prison officials have been working with the Arkansas Department of Health who picked up inmate stool samples for analysis Monday, and will be back at the prison Tuesday to interview inmates who have been ill, and a sampling of inmates who are not “to determine what they had eaten that could have caused the illnesses.”
In the meantime, Tucker has stopped all outgoing transfers of inmates to other prison units and five inmates, who were to be paroled Monday are being kept because they were also sick.
“We’re going to keep them until they’re well,” Wilson said.
The prison also cancelled visitation Sunday in case the illness is a virus to avoid spreading it to family and friends of inmates. Wilson said correction personnel will re-evaluate the situation when more information is available.
Additional medical personnel have been brought in to the unit and Wilson said officials hope to have some answers later in the week.