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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.
- March 3: First case of COVID-19 confirmed in North Carolina.
- March 19: The ACLU of NC and eight other advocacy and legal organizations write letters to Gov. Cooper, DPS and law enforcement agencies asking that they limit arrests and release people from prison.
- March 27: Public health experts from UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University write to Gov. Cooper, calling for the immediate release of people from prisons and jails.
- March 30: First state prison staff member reports testing positive for COVID-19.
- April 1: First state inmate confirmed to have COVID-19.
- April 8: Civil rights organizations file a lawsuit with the N.C. Supreme Court seeking the release of people from prison in light of COVID-19.
- April 16: Mass testing announced at Neuse Correctional Institution, which would reveal one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks among any prison in the nation at that time.
- April 17: N.C. Supreme Court dismisses the case “without prejudice,” allowing it to be refiled in a lower court.
- April 20: Civil rights organizations refile the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court.
- April 21: First inmate dies of illness related to COVID-19.
- April 28: First court hearing in NAACP et al. v. Cooper et al.
- May 1: Judge Rozier orders the plaintiffs and the state to give extensive records to the court by the end of the day May 8.
- May 7: First state prison staff member death from illness related to COVID-19.
- May 7: Fifth inmate dies from illness related to COVID-19.
- May 12: Judge Rozier denies the writ of mandamus and temporary restraining order sections of the lawsuit, leaving the motion for preliminary injunction without a ruling.
- June 3: Second court hearing in NAACP et al. v. Cooper et al.
- June 8: Judge Rozier rules in favor of plaintiffs.
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