RALEIGH— The ACLU of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Emancipate NC, Forward Justice, and the National Juvenile Justice Network have filed a lawsuit today in Superior Court to ensure that the Governor and other public officials take further action to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NC NAACP, Disability Rights North Carolina, the ACLU of North Carolina, three people who are currently incarcerated, and a spouse of an incarcerated person after the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a petition to take up the case.
“We hoped that the Supreme Court would take this up in the first instance given the unprecedented high stakes and the closing window of time to save lives. But we will continue the fight in the lower court,” said Kristi Graunke, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “The state and governor have clear constitutional duties to prevent mass death and suffering among incarcerated people in their custody.”
The lawsuit seeks an immediate order compelling officials to reduce the prison population in order to enable the social distancing that experts agree is necessary to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.
“This legal action seeks to avert a human rights disaster in North Carolina,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights North Carolina. “The large-scale outbreak at Neuse Correctional shows just how overcrowded, unhygienic prisons are a tinderbox for COVID-19. Many people with disabilities will be at highest risk of death. Public officials and courts must act swiftly and sensibly to reduce our prison population.”
“The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases inside NC correctional facilities is increasing by the hour; and with that, undoubtedly, will come more human suffering and loss of life that was completely preventable. Condemning people to die is not only morally wrong, but the cruel and unusual punishment that incarcerated people will face as the virus spreads through our correctional facilities is unconstitutional,” said Whitley Carpenter, Staff Attorney at Forward Justice. “While we are disappointed in the court's decision, we are more resolved than ever to continue fighting for the rights of those who are currently incarcerated.”
"To expect children to endure a pandemic of this magnitude in isolation and separation from their loved ones is inconceivable,” said Ricky Watson Jr., Executive Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network. “We must release as many young people as possible and get them home to their families where they can be cared for, safe, and in compliance with social distancing guidelines during this global crisis."
“Incarcerated people and their families are terrified. For weeks, public health experts and advocates have warned Governor Cooper and DPS about the perils of a massive outbreak,” said Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC. “These dire predictions have now become a tragic reality at Neuse Correctional – imperiling the lives of those incarcerated there and the community at large. Governor Cooper must release people. Every day there is no action, our prisons move closer to becoming death camps.”
On Monday, Neuse Correctional Institution reported 350 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.