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.
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.