As a group of directly and indirectly-impacted people, service providers, concerned citizens, and advocacy organizations, the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance has always prioritized the health, safety, and welfare of currently incarcerated people and people who may have come in contact with the criminal justice system in NC. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated public and private life with alarming speed, so too has it had a massive and tumultuous effect on the criminal justice system.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a clear and urgent crisis for those currently incarcerated or at risk of becoming incarcerated, as prisons and jails present the highest risk of illness from the virus. With social distancing being nearly impossible in such closed environments, especially given the overcrowding and understaffing that plagues NC jails and prisons, our NC officials must act immediately to prevent unnecessary infection and loss of life for our loved ones in these facilities.
The NC Second Chance Alliance has begun shifting its efforts in this moment to addressing the longstanding problems with our county jails and state prison system, starting with reducing those populations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There are currently around 35,000 people in NC state prisons and our county jails house tens of thousands more. The Second Chance Alliance feels that it is urgent that we release as many people from jails and prisons across the state as quickly as possible, as our state prisons and jails are not equipped to handle a massive outbreak.
Some of the critical action steps we have advocated for include:
- Statutorily release people from prison, particularly the elderly and medically vulnerable
- Stop efforts to revoke parole, post-supervision release and probation for all but the most serious violations
- Take concrete action to comply with CDC guidelines to protect those who remain behind bars
We’re specifically requesting that Governor Cooper and Secretary Hooks be required to prioritize release for people who:
- Are 65 and older and therefore have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19
- Have underlying disability or medical conditions like diabetes, liver disease, etc that put them at increased risk for serious harm or death from COVID19 according to the CDC
- Anyone who has a projected release date within the next 12 months, or who is currently approved for work release
- People who are pregnant
We also assert that it is vital that NC officials take the following measures for those who are currently incarcerated to protect their health and human rights:
- Provide timely and adequate updates with information relating to the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Provide free access to phone calls and other modes of communication to facilitate communication with family members
- Provide free, broad access to medical care
- Supply sufficient cleaning and hygiene supplies (including CDC-recommended hand sanitizer which is generally classified as contraband)
- Subject all staff and other individuals entering the facilities to medical screenings and provide protective gear to limit the risk of spread
- Do not allow the use of solitary confinement as a way to quarantine people with suspected exposure to COVID-19.
We are encouraging our members and those in the community to join the movement by calling and writing letters to NC officials to let them know about the urgent need to save lives behind bars.
The time is long overdue for a reassessment; COVID-19 makes such a reassessment even more urgent. It’s time to escalate the action against state and local officials who are not working to protect lives of incarcerated people.
What’s at stake
Jails and prisons are especially vulnerable during this pandemic due to overcrowding, limitations to medical care, and insufficient access to crucial hygiene and personal care items that could help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are at an even higher risk.
There are nearly 35,000 people in North Carolina adult corrections facilities, and thousands more in Juvenile facilities. Without immediate action, countless people will needlessly be exposed to this life-threatening virus. Social distancing is nearly impossible in such closed environments, and there are already several confirmed cases of COVID-19 in multiple North Carolina prisons.
We’ve seen this play out at Rikers island in New York, where the infection rate for people who are incarcerated is more than seven times higher than the rate citywide, and 87 times higher than the country as a whole. A federal prison in Butner, NC recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 last week, and that total now stands at 59. We must act NOW to prevent the devastating scenario taking place in New York from playing out here in North Carolina. Future generations will judge us by what we do in this moment to protect those who have been thrown in cages and relegated to the shadows.
How we’re fighting
Second Chance Alliance Member organizations joined a COVID-19 coalition calling on officials to take immediate action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons.
The coalition sent letters to Judges, District Attorneys, Law Enforcement Personnel, and the Governor urging them to leverage their power to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated during this time, and to provide adequate care for those who are already being held in the state’s jails and prisons.
Learn more here.
How you can get involved
Sign this Color of Change Petition Calling on Governor Cooper to Protect those who are incarcerated from COVID-19
Join us as we celebrate Second Sunday for Second Chances-
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Speak truth to power. Let North Carolina officials know why it’s so important that they protect our family members, friends and neighbors who are incarcerated.
Looking for a call script? Check out our toolkit here
Our COVID-19 Incarceration Reduction work in the News
New York Prisons Called ‘Death Camps’ in the Making
The Progressive March 30, 2020
PW special report, COVID-19 pandemic poses dire threat to NC prisons and jails. Part One
NC Policy Watch March 31, 2020
PW special report, COVID-19 pandemic poses dire threat to NC prisons and jails. Part Two
NC Policy Watch April 3, 2020
Coronavirus raises health, legal concerns for NC jails
Carolina Public Press March 20, 2020