Courtesy of Roy Cooper
The North Carolina NAACP and Gov. Roy Cooper reached a settlement Thursday in a lawsuit regarding COVID-19 conditions within North Carolina state prisons.
Under the settlement, North Carolina has 180 days to release 3,500 people who are currently incarcerated across the state, according to a press release from NC NAACP.
“Today’s historic settlement is a step forward after nearly a year of advocating for the human lives of our neighbors who, in too many cases, have been treated as disposable,” said Rev. Anthony Spearman, president of NC NAACP, in a statement. “What’s happening in North Carolina prisons is the convergence of two pandemics both fueled by racism and classism – COVID-19 and an unjust criminal legal system.”
The settlement also ensures that state prisons put a greater focus on COVID-19 safety through testing, vaccinations, cohorting and better transfer protocol. To qualify for release, among other criteria, individuals must not be serving a sentence for a crime against another person during their current sentence, according to the News and Observer.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit include North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina and some incarcerated people and their families.
When the lawsuit was filed in the Wake County Superior Court in April, 34,000 people were incarcerated across the state. Since then, the prison population has been reduced by 16% and currently sits at 28,659. This lawsuit will cut one-eighth of that.
This is the smallest North Carolina prison population since 1994.
“This settlement is a momentous achievement in the fight to protect incarcerated people during this public health emergency, but it does not end our advocacy,” said Leah Kang, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement. “We urge the governor and the Department of Public Safety to do everything in their power to return as many people to their families and communities as possible during this dangerous pandemic.”
The 180-day deadline begins once the trial court grants a request to stay the case during that period. The parties jointly filed the stay request Thursday.