RALEIGH – A North Carolina Superior Court judge ordered Governor Roy Cooper and other state officials to submit written plans outlining the steps state officials are taking to combat the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons. Among other things, the ruling orders officials to certify that incarcerated people are provided with masks, sanitation supplies, and living conditions that allow for the social distancing measures recommended by the Center for Disease Control.
The ruling is in response to a lawsuit from the ACLU of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Emancipate NC, Forward Justice, and the National Juvenile Justice Network seeking to compel the Governor and other public officials to take further action to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19.
“The rampant outbreaks we’re seeing in state prisons are an imminent threat to people inside and outside of these facilities – with communities of color disproportionately at risk,” said Kristi Graunke, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’re glad the Court is ordering state officials to produce an immediate written plan on how they are taking action to protect the people in state custody. Reducing the prison population is vital to saving lives and protecting public health."
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 declined to take up the case.
“We’re glad that the court is demanding a plan from state officials, and will continue to press for immediate releases," said Whitley Carpenter, Staff Attorney with Forward Justice.
“Nobody should have to suffer and die because the state failed to act and the crowded conditions in our state prisons make it impossible to prevent the spread of this disease,” said Susan Pollitt, supervising attorney at Disability Rights North Carolina.
“Judge Rozier heard, acknowledged, and believed the incarcerated people of North Carolina. This order recognizes the humanity of incarcerated people, their right to dignity, and right to be safe and protected during this global pandemic,” said Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC. “His order is holding DPS and Governor Cooper accountable to prove that the health of incarcerated people is being taken seriously by those charged with caring for them.”
As of May 1, three incarcerated people in state prisons have died of COVID-19. Since the groups filed their initial lawsuit with the NC Supreme Court, state officials have announced the release of 647 people, approximately two percent of the incarcerated population in the state.
A copy of the order can be found at https://www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/sites/default/files/20cvs500110_judge_rozier.pdf.