By Lindsay Marchello
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s prisons will begin releasing some inmates in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Erik Hooks, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, made the announcement during a news conference Monday, April 13, with Gov. Roy Cooper and members of his COVID-19 taskforce.
“The department has been reviewing all options to protect public safety, as well as our employees and those in the state’s custody,” Hooks said. “Many of those options were implemented quickly, providing immediate impact, while others have required more preparation.”
More than 35 inmates and 20 prison staff members have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory disease. Four inmates at a Butner federal prison near Granville County died recently of complications related to COVID-19.
DPS is reviewing 500 inmates who meet specific requirements for early release to slow the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons and juvenile facilities, Hooks said.
No one convicted of a violent crime against a person will be considered for early release.
Qualifications for early release include one of the following:
- Offenders 65 and older with underlying health conditions
- Offenders 65 and older with a release date in 2020
- Female offenders 50 and older with health conditions and a release date in 2020
- Pregnant offenders
- Offenders already on home leave with a release date in 2020
- Offenders on work release with a release date in 2020
More than 6,900 people were released from prison in North Carolina since the start of the year, a 10% increase over the same period in 2019, Hooks said.
A dozen pregnant inmates have already been released on probation.
DPS has taken other steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities, including suspending visitations and work-release programs, requiring medical screening for inmates and staff, and providing extra soap and disinfectant. DPS will suspend accepting transfers of offenders from county jails for 14 days.
The N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission is reviewing offenders under its authority for possible release, Hooks said.
The process is ongoing, said Tim Moose, chief deputy secretary of adult correction and juvenile justice, in a news release.
“We will continue to work diligently to monitor best practices and offender risk, while coordinating any future releases to community supervision, as well as adjusting to this ever-evolving situation to protect our staff, the incarcerated community and the community at large,” Moose said.