In March 2020, representing the NC NAACP, we reached a landmark settlement with the state of North Carolina that resulted in the unprecedented early release of at least 3,500 people in custody inside state prisons.
In addition to releases, the state was required to implement important measures to mitigate the ongoing threat of COVID-19 for those who remain imprisoned, including providing proper PPE, mandatory staff testing, vaccine education and incentives, and compliance monitoring.
We deeply believe that people don't belong in cages, especially during a global health crisis. Although the pandemic is over, we will continue our fight to end the mass incarceration of our people, eliminate death by incarceration, and stand against the prison industrial complex
Below is an archive of our work to keep incarcerated people safe during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Update as of 12/11/2020: According to the DPS website, there are 6,493 positive tests (17.6%) in North Carolina prisons, which is far above the 11% positive test rate amongst the state's overall population. To date, 26 people incarcerated in our state's prisons have died from COVID-19. (data as of 12/11 3:00pm EST)
Despite these rising numbers, we continued to receive reports of noncompliance with Judge Rozier's court order as it relates to the use of solitary confinement as a form of medical isolation, lack of access to appropriate sanitation materials and PPE, as well as retaliation against individuals who discuss the conditions inside the prison with outside parties.
After a hearing on December 4th, 2020, Judge Rozier appointed Thomas Maher, Executive Director of Center for Science and Justice at Duke University, as a Special Master in the case to oversee Protections for People Incarcerated During the Pandemic. We look forward to working with the Special Master to implement steps that can save the lives of North Carolinians. Read the press release here
Here's What We're Doing:
Since early March, we have been urging Sheriffs, Judges, District Attorneys, Law Enforcement Personnel, Secretary Hooks, and Governor Cooper to take immediate, bold action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina jails and prisons, and save lives.
We joined a coalition of organizations across the state urging officials to take the appropriate actions to protect the health and human rights of those who are incarcerated. We've supported our movement partners, started petitions, hand delivered letters, held a Twitter storm that reached millions, called offices, and participated in car rallies advocating for the release and safety of our incarcerated loved ones. Yet, for weeks, we received NO response from Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Erik Hooks; Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice, William Lassiter; or Governor Roy Cooper.
With lives at stake, this was simply unconscionable. So on April 8, 2020, we took historic action, and filed a mandamus petition in the North Carolina Supreme Court on behalf of the NC NAACP and people who are currently incarcerated against the Governor and Department of Public Safety. We took this unprecedented step in partnership with ACLU-North Carolina, Disability Rights NC, Emancipate NC, and the National Juvenile Justice Network, and attorney Irv Joyner in an effort to save countless lives.
We specifically requested that Governor Cooper and Secretary Hooks prioritize release for people who:
- Are 65 and older and therefore have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19
- Have an underlying disability or medical conditions that put them at increased risk for serious harm or death from COVID-19 according to the CDC
- Have a projected release date within the next 12 months, or who are currently approved for work release
- People who are pregnant
On April 21, after the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a petition to take up the case, we filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and a petition for writ of mandamus in Wake County Superior Court to ensure that Governor Cooper and other public officials take action to stop the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina prisons. On April 28th we presented our arguments, and on May 13th our motion was denied. On May 15, 2020 we filed a motion for clarification and request for a hearing.
On June 16th, Judge Rozier ruled in our favor, granting a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit and ordered that immediate action to be taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina Prisons.
The judge found that the State displayed three forms of deliberate indifference in the way they have handled the outbreak so far. As a result, the State has been ordered to take several corrective actions including:
- Develop a plan for testing ALL people who are currently incarcerated inside state prison.
- Stop all transfers between facilities unless they are urgent and or medically necessary
- Provide weekly reports on the number of positive cases and tests completed.
- Document steps taken to comply with recommended CDC guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus
- The court has also appointed a special liaison to the case to assist with communication, advisement and compliance.
Actions you can take to make a difference
Future generations will judge us by what we do in this moment to protect those who have been thrown in cages and relegated to the shadows. We must act NOW to prevent this devastating virus from claiming even more lives in North Carolina.
Additional information and resources
- Coronavirus raises health, legal concerns for NC jails
Carolina Public Press- 3.20.2020
- Statement on Detention Facility Population and COVID-19
Durham County District Attorney- 3.20.2020
- New York Prisons Called ‘Death Camps’ in the Making
- Special report, COVID-19 pandemic poses dire threat to NC prisons and jails- Part One
NC PolicyWatch- 3.31.2020
- Special report, COVID-19 pandemic poses dire threat to NC prisons and jails- Part Two
NC Policywatch- 4.3.2020
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Covid Decarceration Resources
We’ve reached a landmark settlement with the state of North Carolina that will result in the unprecedented early release of at least 3,500 people in custody inside state prisons. We invite you to use and share this page as a resource as we continue navigating the coming weeks and months together in our effort to quickly and safely reduce the population in state prisons to save lives.
Voices From the Inside: The Impact of COVID-19 on Incarcerated People
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a clear and urgent crisis for those currently incarcerated or at risk of becoming incarcerated, as prisons and jails present the highest risk of illness from the virus.