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The Prison COVID Lawsuit

Table of Contents

About NAACP, et. al. v. Cooper, et. al.
(Wake County Superior Court 20-CVS-500110)
“The Prison COVID Lawsuit”

On April 20, 2020, Disability Rights North Carolina, Emancipate NC, The ACLU of North Carolina, Forward Justice, and the National Juvenile Justice Network filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to ensure that the Governor, the Secretary of NC DPS, and the Parole Commissioners take necessary action to protect people from contracting COVID-19 in NC prisons. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NC NAACP, Disability Rights North Carolina, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, three people who are currently incarcerated, and a spouse of an incarcerated person.

View the lawsuit press release.

The Settlement

On February 25, 2021, the parties reached a settlement which will result in the early release of at least 3,500 people in state custody over the next 180 days.   “Early Release” means the person must be released at least 14 days before what their projected release date was on February 15, 2021.  People released early will be able to take actions to protect themselves from the virus such as socially distance from others, and the density of the prison facilities will hopefully be reduced making them safer for people incarcerated there.  Additionally, the settlement will ensure the state takes important measures to mitigate the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s prisons.

Read the settlement agreement.

Please note: Disability Rights NC and our partner organizations in this litigation are not able to provide legal services or secure individual releases related to this settlement agreement.  As part of the settlement, DPS retains control over who will be released early.

Below we provide information and resources we hope are helpful.

Mitigation Measures

Through February 25, 2022, or earlier only if state and federal declarations of emergencies are lifted, DPS will maintain the following mitigation measures:

  • Offer vaccine education and incentives to incarcerated people to voluntarily receive the vaccine
  • House COVID-19 positive people individually or only with other COVID-19 positive people
  • Continue to review cohort size and make reasonable efforts to keep them as small as feasible
  • Provide adequate sanitation and personal protective equipment and enough masks so people can double mask at all times
  • Test or quarantine before any transfer unless the transfer is for security or medical reasons until May 15, 2021, and later unless the CDC/NC DHHS change recommendations and the DPS Medical Director determines testing or quarantining before transfer is no longer warranted based on overall levels of vaccinations and positivity rates.
  • Test staff for COVID-19 every two weeks until May 15, 2021, and later unless the CDC/NC DHHS change recommendations and the DPS Medical Director determines a change of policy is warranted. Thereafter, DPS will continue testing protocols that complies with guidance from the CDC/NC DHHS
  • Establish an anonymous complaint system for incarcerated people to report issues related to COVID-19
  • Notify family and emergency contacts in the event a hospitalized person’s becomes seriously or critically ill
  • Monitor the compliance with the mitigation measures at prison facilities including by unannounced audits by the DPS Compliance Audit Team

How people will be released

The 3,500 people will be released early through three methods:

  1. Awarding Discretionary Sentence Credits
  2. Extending the limits of confinement (ELC), and
  3. Reinstating individuals to post-release supervision or granting early release to those participating in the Mutual Agreement Parole Program.

Learn more about these different options.

Other resources

DPS’ most recent memorandum on Extending Limits of Confinement (ELC).

DPS’ COVID-19 information

DPS has advised us that families can use this email address to communicate about their loved one and releases.

If you would like to find public information on a NC state prison inmate, you may search the NC Department of Public Safety’s database. There you can find the projected release date for the most recent incarceration in the top portion of the offender’s record.

DPS Offender Family Services
(919) 733-3388

NC Prisoner Legal Services
(919)-856-2200

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