For over a year now, we have been fighting for the lives, health and safety of those who are incarcerated during this unprecedented global health crisis. 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. In addition to releases, the state will take important measures to mitigate the ongoing threat of Covid-19 for those who remain imprisoned.
We realize that this settlement brings relief, but also questions, for the family members and loved ones of those who are incarcerated. 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.
Please note that Forward Justice and our partner organizations are not able to provide legal services or secure individual releases related to this settlement.
Update as of April 7th, 2021: The NC Department of Public Safety has created a platform for the family members and loved ones of those who are incarcerated to share their concerns related to COVID. You can send concerns/complaints to DPS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently asked questions:
- What does the settlement mean?
The NC Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) will effectuate the "early release" of 3,500 people within 180 days of the agreement. "Early release" means the person must be released at least 14 days before their current projected release date. In addition to these releases, the state will also take important measures to mitigate the ongoing threat of Covid-19 for those who remain incarcerated.
- What relief is there for those who must remain incarcerated?
DPS also agreed to a list of mitigation measures that will stay in place for at least 12 months, including:
- Vaccine education and incentives for incarcerated individuals and staff
- A mandate that COVID positive people can only be in the same housing unit as other COVID positive people
- Continued cohort reviews and COVID-19 positive isolations
- Requirements for the state to provide enough sanitation products and masks and PPE so that incarcerated people can double mask at all times
- Required testing or quarantine before any transfer
- Continued biweekly testing of all staff and sample testing of incarcerated people until May 15, after which they can change the testing regime if the CDC/NCDHHS recommends it and the DPS medical director makes changes
- The creation of an anonymous complaint system for incarcerated people to report issues in their facilities related to COVID-19
- A requirement that family/emergency contacts are notified in the event a hospitalized individual’s condition becomes serious or critically ill
- Compliance monitoring of facilities, including unannounced audits (visits) at facilities by Compliance Audit Team
- What happens next?
Judge Rozier signed the settlement agreement and ordered a stay of the case on Thursday, February 25, 2021, so DPS began implementing the settlement agreement that same day.
- When does the 180 days begin/how soon can some folks be released?
Per the DPS website: “The 180 days will begin after the trial court grants the request to stay the case. Specific details for enacting certain portions of the agreement will be worked out in the days and weeks to come.”The Court granted the request to stay the case on February 25th. Any early reentries occurring on or after February 15, 2021, and prior to the stay, will count toward the 3,500 total.
- Can Forward Justice or any of the other organizations in the case help my loved one be included in the 3,500?
No these organizations do not have any control over releases. DPS determines who those 3,500 individuals are, and when they will be released within the 180 day time frame.
- How does this impact public safety?
There are thousands of people being held in state prisons who are absolutely safe to be released. We have continuously advocated for the release of people who are especially vulnerable to this devastating disease including those who: Are 65 and older and therefore have a higher risk of contracting and having severe complications related to 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 are currently approved for work release; and people who are pregnant.This lawsuit revealed that 4 out of 10 incarcerated people in NC have medical conditions the CDC says put them at high risk of significant illness or death from COVID-19. The prison system pre-COVID was overcrowded and made conditions ripe for outbreaks and deaths for incarcerated people and staff and their families. North Carolina’s prison system did not have sufficient medical staff before the pandemic, and the coronavirus severely exacerbated the critical need for medical care.
- Can family members submit an anonymous complaint on behalf of an individual?
The anonymous complaint system is only for individuals inside facilities. However, family members may send concerns/complaints to DPS at email@example.com.
How can I stay informed and get involved to help bring more people home and keep people safe from COVID-19?
This settlement is a monumental achievement, but it does not end our advocacy to decarcerate North Carolina’s prisons and reunite families. More must be done and we continue to look to Gov. Cooper to demonstrate leadership by further reducing the number of people who are incarcerated. Join us in this continuing fight by:
- Joining our outreach list for legal updates and other opportunities to take action
- Share your loved one's story- Share your personal stories about how you or your loved one are personally impacted by incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will use these stories to uplift the voices and experiences of incarcerated people during this unprecedented time of crisis and to call attention to inaction by North Carolina officials to fulfill their duty to protect some of our most vulnerable residents.
Additional information and resources:
- Read our press release announcing the settlement
- View the full court filing and settlement agreement
- Learn more about our fight for COVID-19 Decarceration
- Hear directly from those who have been incarcerated during the pandemic, and their loved ones, in our ‘Voices from the Inside’ video series
- Learn more about Decarcerate Now (North Carolina vigil for Freedom and Racial Justice)
- This campaign was designed to stand in solidarity with the more than 30,000 people who remain behind bars during this deadly pandemic.