SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina prison system is pushing to process an influx of new inmates into state prisons from county jails by year end, according to documents obtained by WBTV.
The push to process the new inmates is triggering the movement of current inmates to different prisons and putting a strain on staff at some prisons, the documents show.
News of the additional processing and inmate movement comes a week after a judge ordered an outside expert—known as a special master—supervise the prison system’s handling of COVID-19. Although the judge announced the ruling last week, the formal order was not signed until Friday afternoon.
Emails sent to staff at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury show 400 new inmates are being brought to the facility from county jails by the end of the year, with 200 expected to have been processed this week and 200 next week.
“The Commissioner wants the jail backlog eliminated by 12/31/20. In order to accomplish this goal we will be receiving 200 offenders each week for the next 2 week,” an email from the processing center supervisor at Piedmont CI wrote to employees in an email on Tuesday.
“We are expected to fully process at least 200 offenders this week and next week - 400 offenders total. We must work as a TEAM to accomplish this goal.”
The email said that time off will not be approved and staff will be authorized to work overtime to help process the influx of new inmates.
Among the inmates being processed are those categorized as ‘red’, meaning they have either not yet been tested for COVID-19, have been exposed to COVID-19 or have tested positive.
Sources inside Piedmont CI tell WBTV staff must still process those inmates—with in-person interaction—or be written up by their supervisors.
The sources who provided information to WBTV about the inner workings of the prison system spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear they would face retaliation and disciplinary action for speaking out.
The quarantine time for inmates has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days, according to the email.
Meanwhile, Foothills Correctional Institution, in Morganton, has also begun accepting adult inmates for processing. Typically, the Foothills CI intake facility only processes juveniles, sources said.
Sources familiar with the prison’s operation said Foothills CI was taking between roughly 25 and 30 new inmates for processing each day since last week.
In order to accommodate the influx of new inmates, the sources said, inmates currently housed at Piedmont CI were being transferred to other prisons around the state. More than 100 inmates were transferred from Piedmont CI this week, sources said.
Both the influx of new inmates and the movement of current inmates was alarming to Leah Kang, an attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina who has been a lead attorney in the case challenging the prison system’s handling of COVID-19 that led to the special master being appointed.
“We continue to be concerned about the dangerous movements of large numbers of people in DPS prisons,” Kang said.
“Given that the state has represented to the court that the ‘quarantine dorm’ in any of their prisons houses a maximum of 34 people, it begs the question of how they will safely process the large backlog of people waiting in jails to be admitted to prisons and underscores again how critical it is that the prison population be reduced.”
A spokesman for the prison system, John Bull, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
After this story was published, Bull responded to WBTV’s request but refused to offer an explanation for the moves.
“We see you have already posted your story. We assume you aren’t really interested in DPS’ input,” Bull said.