New details on pending release of 3,500 people from NC prison system

New details on pending release of 3,500 people from NC prison system
North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety has agreed to release at least 3,500 people in state custody within the next six months to settle a lawsuit filed by civil rights organizations. (Source: Charlotte Observer)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety has agreed to release at least 3,500 people in state custody within the next six months to settle a lawsuit filed by civil rights organizations.

The state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and American Civil Liberties Union argued that conditions at state prisons amid the coronavirus pandemic were unconstitutional. According to the DPS dashboard, the number of offenders that have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic reached 9,632 as of February 26. Of the 47 offenders that have died, four deaths happened at the Pender Correctional Institution and two occurred at Tabor Correctional Institution.

“The arguments that were made in this lawsuit were all very specific to the pandemic,” Jordan Wilkie, a reporter for Carolina Public Press who has covered the lawsuit extensively since it was filed last April, told WECT. “When there were arguments of overcrowding, it didn’t say the prison system itself was overcrowded, it was saying it is too overcrowded to adequately respond to a pandemic. So, the solution that is crafted here in the settlement is that over the next six months, there will be a steady decrease in the prison population. Normal releases will happen, and on top of that you will have an additional 3,500 people released earlier than they would have been.”

The state will have three months to release 1,500 inmates and three more months to release an additional 2,000. Wilkie says there are programs already in place which will be used to identify individuals for early release under this settlement.

“There are a couple main methods,” he said. “The first one is called Extended Limits of Confinement. It basically means that people would still be serving their prison sentence, but they will be serving it at home. Other states call it home confinement. it is meant for people who are on a minimum custody status already and have been deemed to be safe to then serve their sentence in the community. The other group of people that this will really target are what are called MAPP (Mutual Agreement Parole Program) contracts, which is a probation and parole sort of contract. That would likely serve people who have been in prison for much longer times and are likely to be elderly. At that point, these groups will have low criminogenic factors. Given the arguments the Department of Public Safety has made throughout the lawsuit and throughout the year, it would really surprise me if they agreed to any settlement of which they release anybody who is at high risk for re-offense.”

To read Wilkie’s extensive coverage of the settlement for Carolina Public Press, click here.

Copyright 2021 WECT. WBTV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.