Inmates at Neuse Correctional Institution walk outside behind fences in Goldsboro on May 15. The prison has been the site of a major outbreak of COVID-19. Lawyers for the ACLU and N.C. Department of Public Safety argued in court Wednesday about the effectiveness of the state's protection of prisoners during the pandemic. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press
Inmates at Neuse Correctional Institution, apparently unmasked and not socially distanced, walk outside behind fences in Goldsboro on May 15, 2020. The facility was the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak in the first months of the pandemic. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press

This week Kristi Graunke, Legal Director, ACLU of North Carolina; Jordan Wilkie, Reporter, Carolina Public Press; and Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, Assistant Professor UNC School of Medicine, talk with host Stephanie Carson takes a closer look at concerns of the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s prison system.

In May, the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of several civil rights organizations. In June, Judge Vinston Rozier Jr. of Wake County Superior Court ruled that the conditions inside North Carolina’s prisons were likely unconstitutional due to the state’s failure to provide substantial testing for COVID-19 to people in its prisons and for not following public health guidelines for limiting the spread of disease.

In addition to a plan to test every person in the state prison system, Rozier asked the parties in the lawsuit for a plan to solve disparities between how different prisons are responding to the crisis. 

Judge Rozier ordered the state prison system to take additional steps to protect inmates and come up with a plan to test every incarcerated person in the North Carolina prison system. The state has submitted information requested by the judge, but what is outstanding is a motion for reconsideration of the case itself.

Prison litigation timeline

The judge’s order comes two months to the day after the case was originally filed with the state Supreme Court. Here is how it has played out.

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Stephanie Carson is the former news and community partnerships manager at Carolina Public Press.

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