By Taylor Knopf

State prison officials are reviewing early release for certain, nonviolent inmates who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 complications and those who are already scheduled to be released in 2020.

The Department of Public Safety released six inmates under these 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.

There’s been concern from 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.

UPDATE, April 17, 2020: The NC Supreme Court dismissed prison legal advocates’ petition for the emergency release of certain inmates amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

View here: NC Supreme Court order in response to the emergency COVID-19 petition

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.

A week following the first positive inmate test result, the ACLU of North Carolina and other advocacy organizations, along with inmates, filed an emergency lawsuit asking for early release of prisoners who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions.

Gov. Roy Cooper and DPS Sec. Erik Hooks responded to the lawsuit today, asking the courts to deny the request made by prison advocates. Instead, they announced the new criteria DPS is using to release inmates on a case-by-case basis.

They also reiterated the steps DPS has taken to protect inmates and staff from the virus, such as temperature checks and isolating those with symptoms.

Hooks wrote in an affidavit that the reentry process from prison to the community is complex, includes several steps and typically starts more than a year before an inmate’s release date.

“While reentry is complicated in the best of circumstances, the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 poses additional challenges,” he wrote. “State housing is still limited and an offender who reenters the community without housing or other necessary support is particularly vulnerable to the challenges brought by COVID-19.”

The department is legally restricted from releasing some inmates, such as those with felony convictions, before they’ve served their minimum sentence.

“These obligations are not waived, even in light of the pandemic,” Hooks wrote.

There are a couple of different ways inmates may be eligible for early release during this outbreak:

  • Inmates with risk factors that make them more likely to face complications of COVID-19, such as pregnancy, old age or underlying health issues. These must be nonviolent inmates with a projected release date in 2020.
  • Some inmates with upcoming release dates have been awarded discretionary time credits that will make them eligible for earlier release by reducing their minimum sentences. Through this process, about 400 inmates who were scheduled to be released between now and July have been released or will be released in the next few weeks.
  • Due to the pandemic, the Parole Commission is allowing inmates enrolled in the Mutual Agreement Parole Program (MAPP) to accelerate their release dates within the next six months. As of today, four have been released through this program and 11 are scheduled to be released next week.
  • DPS is reviewing inmate cases for early medical release if they are “permanently and totally disabled, terminally ill, or geriatric, and incapacitated to the extent that they do not pose a public safety risk.”

Hooks said in a news conference Monday that there’s an important distinction to be made about these releases.

“They’re extending the terms of confinement,” he said. “So they are still in our custody, they just may not be living at night within our facilities.”

They will be fully under the supervision of community corrections officers, Hooks added. Some could be under the watch of home monitoring or electronic monitoring programs. That will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“If they fail to carry out this program successfully, they will be returned to the facilities,” Hooks said.

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit say state officials didn’t go far enough with the new early-release criteria.

“We don’t feel these measures are enough to reduce the population and protect the rights of people in DPS facilities,” said Disability Rights North Carolina lawyer Luke Woollard.

Woollard and the advocates who filed the lawsuit are crafting their response to be released later this week. Though inmates at high-risk for COVID-19 need to be protected through early release, he said, another goal is to reduce the overall population to create safe facilities for the inmates still incarcerated.

These reductions are not significant enough to make a difference, Woollard said.

The prison system is also limiting the number of new inmates coming into their facilities. All inmate transfers from county jails to the prison system have been suspended.

DPS will not accept new admission of people who have violated probation at this time.

The department is also working to release some nonviolent juvenile offenders awaiting trial with electronic monitoring or to community-based programs.

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Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...

24 replies on “NC prisons begin early release for some inmates”

  1. My son Bland Shivers is scheduled to be released June 8th. Who to see if he could be released earlier. H e has a place to stay

    1. I am very concerned about my fiance David S. Holt # 1292242 from the South Correctional Institution in Troy nc. every day I pray to God to protect him from this virus that is everywhere, I ask him to have mercy for my fiancé and to give him an opportunity to restore his life with me, it is very difficult to face all this alone at home without the , and being afraid that they might become infected in prison because they could not stop this epidemic inside the prison. I ask you to consider returning home so that we can face this situation together as a family, they banned the gathering of more than 10 people for fear that we may become infected with this virus but in prisons there are more than 600 people who can become infected faster than all of us who are outside. I ask that you consider the possibility that David S. Holt may return with us and be a shoulder to me in the midst of this situation. Blessings for all.

  2. My husband Steven Clements is due to be released in 2021, which is just a bit over a year. He’s listed under violent offender, but my husband is not violent. He has underlying medical conditions, so he needs to be released. Coronavirus doesn’t put stipulations on who it affects, so neither should Gov.Cooper or Secretary Erik Hooks. They say you have to be non-violent, 65 and up with health issues, pregnant, or due to be released in 2020. Just the other day a 46 year old man from Butner Correctional institution died from the coronavirus. My husband is 44, very close to his age. My husband was sentenced for a certain number of years, not a death sentence. I feel absolutely helpless. I do not want my husband to die in prison. Please release these people before its to late!

  3. My son, Robert Tyson, 1468454 has place to go also Tobe released May 22 and all procedures in place for home plan. Please help us get him home now. Thanks

    1. My son Willis Clagon is waiting for Court of Appeals which could be another year .Why not let him come home and wait on his appeal home .He was on a bond .He always showed up for his court date . He was not sentenced the death penalty .But this virus would be a death penalty.Governor Cooper when being Attorney General came to our community Washington County.He helped two officer get off with tampering with murder evident .Every since then the community have suffered with officers ‘judges ‘district attorney ‘sheriff doing what they want to do to African American .My son had to defend himself because court or DA ,judges or no one would give him due process .He was shot 3times in the back they dismiss the case while he was at hospital .But he having defend himself by someone with a violent record He gets to go to prison .Mr .Hooks we must be fair .I’m aking for his release until he had trial by both courts .

  4. My son have not went to court yet did you have medical issues he’s on medication especially high blood pressure heart problems and female other personal things that’s going on with him I would love for him to be released he has a place to go a Christian homes even if you have to be monitored that’s fine but because one of the things they say it’s high blood pressure I think he may be a diabetic not sure he needs to be checked about that I’m willing to open my home so he can come in come back inn

  5. My son Namaire Andrews been there almost a year have not went to court he do have medical problems high blood pressure , heart trouble other medication issues would love for him to be released come home even if he have to be monitored to be safe at home .

  6. My husband is a non violent offender and scheduled to be released this year. However he doesn’t fall in any of the categories. Why can’t people like my husband be considered for early release? His name is Ronald A Baker…1263100

    1. From what I hear they’re not isolating the people that are sick. therefore it is spreading like wildfire. I am concerned because my kids father is locked up at Dan River prison work Farm. I read a lot of things saying what they’re doing to prevent the spread of it . But what’s being told is not true. Please protect these inmates please send them home please!!!!

  7. My fiancee is in Eastern Correctional and the staff is positive with the virus, and my fiancee has a blood disorder which would make him very open to catching it and his body not being able to fight it off , but they still ain’t trying to let him out smh if he die or get sick in there I will be suing that facility.

  8. Hi my name is Alton R Gray my daughter e b o n i e Diane Gray is scheduled to be released in 22 if he is a nonviolent inmate in Raleigh North Carolina she is done about 75% of her 85% sentence she is on work release and she has a chronic. diagnosed terminal illness she has a place to stay she has no infractions and is no harm to Public Safety she can be release home monitoring ankle bracelet curfew probation or Etc now what I don’t understand is the word can’t B release under some guidelines but will be released at a time of death I need help now please help me to get my daughter home where she might have a chance to live and not die in prison thank you and may God bless us all please reply with guidance and help

  9. My fiance Scott Rector is due to get released next year, but he has a lot of health issues. Never been arrested for a violent crime. He has cellulitis and glocoma. He has a good place to come home to. He has family that would help his transition back into society! You can test assured that he will never go back to prison. Please help us! His Granny is 83 and wants to see him out of the penal system. Thank you, Wanda

    1. He is in Table City, N.C. His oppus number is 0338051.I already made a comment. Please help us….please.

  10. My boyfriend Jasper Thaxton is in the Alamance County jail but he has already been sentenced and he is 75 days away from his minimum. He has a place to live and also a job lined up for when he is released. He doesnt have any health issues but i am a very high risk against the COVID-19 Virus and he is my primary caregiver. I have had to move into a family member’s home since he has been incarcerated and its taking a toll on that particular family member. Please let me know if he is eligible for the early release program

  11. hey my husband is in Lumberton nc with a projected release date of dec 2022 he is a non violent inmate. im very concered about him at this time bc of the covid19. he has really bad alleriges which being in prison where they are over crowed and not very clean place to be makes his issues worse ..he has hard time breathing sometimes. im just wondering why ppl like him that are non violent and short time to do…why cant they be released??? I need help but not sure where to go with my concern

  12. My husband Micheal White also get release this year within a couple of months .In this case I feel anyone with a non valance case whom are being released the next couple of months to a year should be released early due to covid-19 for the safety of them and families their be returning to.He’s done 14years long enough

  13. My kid’s father is it Dan River prison work Farm
    0725455. He is scheduled to be out early next year. He’s in there fearing for his life because the people that do have it are afraid to speak up. Please release these people that have not done anything violent

    1. I’ve been calling to Raleigh every week to get in touch with a Darrin Henson so I can have him transferred closer to home because where he’s located is 4 hours for me there and 4 hours for me back. And that’s too far to travel for an hour visitation. Please help any way you can.

  14. I have two nephews incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, know of one elderly friend who has served 90% of his time. It would be a blessing to have them home and out of harm’s way of contracting covid-19. Please! Be merciful and consider if your family, friend, or loved one was in this situation. Psalm 79:11 – “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before YOU; according to the greatness of YOUR power preserve [ ] those that are appointed to die.”

  15. They are Sandy Ledbetter, SC prison; Dwight Turrentine, NC prison; Marcel Barnes, NJ prison system.

  16. My daughter, 31 year old Tracey Edwards 1011295 is serving a drug conviction at NCCIW in Raleigh (1st time ever being in trouble) she delivered her baby girl there in December 2019 & has yet to receive her 6 Wk post check up. She has no spleen which is a compromised immune, asthma , & a blood disorder. Please bring her home to social distance safely with her newborn & 4 year old daughter. I have an electronic monitor co. On go to pick her up in Raleigh, bring her home & monitor for the remainder of her sentence. Please help! I can’t tell these babies mom died in prison. Tracey received a sentence BUT NOT A LIFE SENTENCE!!!!!

  17. I’m asking Gov Cooper to release my son Dajuan Fleming he’s in Avery Mitchell Prison,I received a letter On April 29th 2020,stating their blowing chemical in the hole where he is,and its making him short of breath,they refusing him medical attention, He has a huge knot under his rib cage,he’s been asking for medical attention for over four months,and have yet to receive any,I spoke with medical staff there all I was told is they will check on him,that’s not acceptable,I need more answer,Roy Cooper and Commissioner over N.c prison system,he could die down there,ingesting those checimals,#Imconcernedparent#Pleasehelp!!!

  18. I posted earlier a comment, about my son it was posted,but for some reason,I no longer see my post,but I’m putting it again,My son Dajuan Fleming is in Avery Mitchell Prison,I received a letter from on April 29th 2020 stating he’s in the hole,his time been up in there,almost 20 days ago,he stated they are blowing chemicals down there where he’s at, and he’s been requesting medical attention,for almost 4 months and haven’t receive any medical help,the chemicals they are blowing down there are making him short of breath where he can hardly breathe and he has a huge knot under his ribcage,no one has giving him any medical attention,he can die down there where they blowing chemicals in that hole,I called up to Avery Mitchell prison today all they medical staff would say,is I’ll have someone go check on him,that’s not acceptable Mr.Roy Cooper and Commissioner of Prison I need answers!!Release him before he dies in there from them checimals!,#Imconcernedparent

  19. My mother Tammy Huffman has been in prison for drugs for 5 years.. She isn’t violent and her projected release date is December 2021. Please send my momma on home she needs to be home during this time.

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