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More Protections Needed In NC State Prisons As COVID-19 Cases Rise

The Nash Correctional Institution in Nash County, NC, is the site of a recent death of a prison from COVID-19. Outbreaks have been occurring across state facilities.
The Nash Correctional Institution in Nash County, NC, is the site of a recent death of a prison from COVID-19. Outbreaks have been occurring across state facilities.

Increased coronavirus case numbers and deaths in North Carolina have taken a lethal toll on people inside state prisons. The number of coronavirus-related deaths has doubled since the end of September, and more than one of every six prisoners has tested positive, according to reporting by Charlotte Observer investigative reporter Ames Alexander. In December, four prisoners at four different facilities died in the span of five days. Outbreaks have continued across the system. Host Anita Rao speaks with Ames Alexander, investigative reporter with the Charlotte Observer, about recent COVID-19 case numbers and deaths in state prisons.

The risk of transmission is high for prisoners because of close living quarters and prison-to-prison transfers. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reduced transfers in April, but three prison facilities closed last month and reshuffled staff and prisoners to address increased case numbers. The ACLU and other civil rights groups filed an emergency lawsuit in April calling on Gov. Roy Cooper and DPS to reduce overcrowding in prisons and take “concrete action” to protect prisoners according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in June, ordering the state to reopen programs for early release and increase testing for staff and prisoners. In a Dec. 4 order, the judge mandated that staff who interact with prisoners be tested every two weeks and appointed a “special master” to oversee prisons’ COVID-19 response. Host Anita Rao discusses what’s happening inside prisons and efforts to curb virus transmission with Alexander.

Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio

Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.
Kaia Findlay is a producer for The State of Things, WUNC's daily, live talk show. Kaia grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a household filled with teachers and storytellers. In elementary school, she usually fell asleep listening to recordings of 1950s radio comedy programs. After a semester of writing for her high school newspaper, she decided she hated journalism. While pursuing her bachelor’s in environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she got talked back into it. Kaia received a master’s degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, where she focused on reporting and science communication. She has published stories with Our State Magazine, Indy Week, and HuffPost. She most recently worked as the manager for a podcast on environmental sustainability and higher education. Her reporting passions include climate and the environment, health and science, food and women’s issues. When not working at WUNC, Kaia goes pebble-wrestling, takes long bike rides, and reads while hammocking.