We must act NOW to prevent this devastating virus from claiming even more lives in North Carolina.
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. With social distancing being nearly impossible in such closed environments, a lack of protective equipment for incarcerated people and staff, and crucial cleaning and sanitizing products being classified as contraband, our prisons are tinderboxes for potential infections.
Especially given the overcrowding and understaffing that plagues NC jails and prisons, NC officials must act immediately to prevent unnecessary infection and loss of life for our loved ones in these facilities.
In Neuse Correctional facility alone, more than fifty percent of people incarcerated there have tested positive for the deadly virus. *(As of June 1st) Unfortunately, of the more than 32,000 people currently incarcerated in North Carolina, less than 2000 have been tested for the virus. Of the 54 prisons run by the NC Department of Public Safety, 13 have performed no COVID-19 testing on those incarcerated and 24 correctional facilities have performed less than 10 tests. Without immediate, bold action, many more lives will needlessly be lost.
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