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Families Worry After Illnesses at Newport Prison Force Quarantine

Family members of inmates at the McPherson women's prison in Newport say they are worried after the breakout of an unknown illness.
JACKSON COUNTY, AR -- Family members of inmates at the McPherson women's prison in Newport say they are worried after the breakout of an unknown illness.

It has forced officials to cancel visitations over the weekend and quarantine 240 inmates.

One inmate died early Saturday morning after falling ill.

Prison officials say they don't  know what killed the 42-year-old woman. They say she had flu-like symptoms but not the flu. 
   
Ashley Whitacre has been spending a lot of time on her cellphone lately getting updates from her sister Christina Vent, an inmate at the prison.

"She was able to call home yesterday and let us know that visitations for today have been canceled," Whitacre said Sunday afternoon.

Visitations were canceled over fears that the unknown illness in spreading through some of the nearly 900 inmates at the state-run prison.

Family members, like Whitacre, say they've received few details about what's going on.

"This should be released," she said.  "This should be told. What's wrong with our family? I mean, that's my sister."

Arkansas Department of Correction officials confirmed Sunday the illnesses are coming from housing area three.
   
At least three other inmates from the housing area with similar symptoms are being treated and watched closely.

"The unknown is worse then if we knew," Whitacre said.

Corrections officials say all 240 inmates in housing area three are being kept away from the general population. Extra doctors and nurses have been called in to treat inmates and work to screen all prisoners.

Whitacre has been taking care of her sister's four kids while she is behind bars.  She was the one relaying the message that their mother is now one of those feeling sick.   

"It's really hard to explain to (the children) that your mother's got an illness, and we don't know what it is," Whitacre said.

Family members of multiple inmates at the McPherson prison spoke Sunday of four to five deaths and dozens of sick inmates.
   
Corrections officials assure it's much less wide spread, but, that they are taking every precaution to make sure things don't get worse.
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