Because of the growing threat of Covid-19, North Carolina prison officials are reviewing early release for some inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes and those already scheduled for release this year.

The Department of Public Safety released six inmates under the new criteria and is considering about 500 more. The six released so far were females who are pregnant or over the age of 65. DPS currently houses 34,042 inmates.

Why it matters: Concerns were raised by criminal justice advocates, inmates and their families that conditions within prisons are not suitable for social distancing and proper hygiene during this pandemic. The fear is that the virus could spread quickly within the facilities and sicken many at once, overloading prison infirmaries and local hospital systems that receive patients from behind bars.

The prison’s medical facilities also do not have any ventilators for inmates who may develop extreme complications of Covid-19. They would be sent to local hospitals.

The first state prison inmate tested positive for the virus on April 1. Currently, more than 35 inmates in six facilities have tested positive. Additionally, 20 prison staff at 10 facilities reported to DPS positive tests for Covid-19.

Who qualifies: Inmates considered for early release cannot have been convicted of a violent crime against a person and must fall within one of the following categories: 

  • Pregnant offenders
  • Offenders age 65 and older with underlying health conditions 
  • Female offenders age 50 and older with health conditions and a release date in 2020
  • Offenders age 65 and older with a release date in 2020
  • Offenders already on home leave with a release date in 2020
  • Offenders on work release with a release date in 2020

Bottom line: More than 35 inmates spread among six facilities had tested positive for Covid-19 as of April 13, as had 20 DPS employees at 10 facilities.

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