COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News

5 Questions: How is the North Carolina prison system keeping inmates safe from COVID-19?

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As people in the United States are social distancing themselves to protect one other from the spread of COVID-19, inmates in correctional facilities have few such options. They live in close quarters, making it difficult to stay 6 feet apart at all times, as recommended by federal health officials, and they have even more limited choices for sanitation and hygiene.

Still, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety says it’s taking several measures to prevent a widespread outbreak of the disease that causes the new coronavirus.

DPS Communications Officer for Adult Corrections John Bull discussed the situation with Policy Watch and outlined the prison system’s current safety measures.

1. How is the North Carolina corrections system preparing for coronavirus?

A number of actions are being taken. Please see the attached press release (uploaded below).

2. Is alcohol-based hand sanitizer considered contraband in North Carolina prisons (the product contains a high percentage of alcohol that can be separated out from the gel substance)? If so, is there an alternative?  What cleaning products are available to inmates for their individual cells?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is considered contraband in North Carolina prisons, as it is in many other prisons. Offenders and staff are being urged to do the following:

  • Wash your hands frequently during the day, especially before eating or handling food. Scrub hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing completely with warm water.
  • After washing your hands, avoid potential for re-contamination by using a paper towel to turn off faucets or open doors.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are displaying symptoms of illness.
  • Correction Enterprise is creating a non-alcohol sanitizing lotion for use in Department of Public Safety. Until the lotion supplies are delivered, offenders will continue to use soap. All prisons are well stocked with soap and disinfectants.

3. Are there currently any suspected cases of coronavirus among the state’s inmate population?


4. What would the protocol be if someone in prison tested positive for coronavirus?

Offenders who test positive for COVID-19 would be isolated and treated in keeping with the Division of Prisons infectious disease protocol.

5. Has the North Carolina corrections system dealt with a pandemic or situation like this before? If so, what was it, when and what happened?

The prison system has extensive experience with seasonal outbreaks of the flu, norovirus and other contagious diseases. Patients are isolated, treated and the causes of the illnesses are investigated. I don’t believe anyone has experience with dealing with the challenges of a pandemic. The last one in the United States was the Spanish Flu in 1918, according to the CDC’s website. Prisons staff were very active and successful in handling Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 in 2009.


  1. George Ensley

    March 16, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Will release dates be affected

  2. Jake mccann

    March 16, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Does the term cruel and unusual punishment ring any bells? The prison system is clogged with nonviolent offenders who don’t belong there in the first place! It’s time to start releasing these offenders and commuting the rest of their sentences to either house arrest or supervised probation. I know this is an unpopular opinion, however, it is the right call.

  3. Jordan

    March 17, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    I think letting the non violent offenders that are not a threat to society be released. I also think offenders that are close to their release date should be reviewed. This is crazy! People do not think about them until they are your husband, father of your child, son, uncle, brother, etc. They are people. They made a mistake. They deserve a chance!

  4. Karen Van Dyke

    March 18, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    I believe nonessential personnel should be released as well. If not mandatory, they not only increase the risk of bringing virus to the inmates, but also risk exposing other staff not infected. This virus does not always cause symptoms in the beginning and raises the risk that staff may be infected.

  5. Donna J Gibson

    March 18, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    My only son is in prison, minimum custody Randolph Correctional, non violent with six months remaining. I can not believe that they are not releasing these guys. He has done nothing to deserve a death sentence because if you don’t know it now you will in a few weeks. This is something that no one is prepared for. I am a health care provider and see the panic and feel the panic in one of the largest hospital systems in the country. Please don’t allow the needless spread of death and disease to these men and staff. It is coming, we are not prepared and the impact is going to be huge.

  6. Larry Elwood Woolridge

    March 19, 2020 at 11:52 am

    I think anyone with 3 yrs or less and not a murderer or sex offender or rosiest should b let out of nc prisons and all other prisons.theres gonna b lots of deaths in there.people wake up.

  7. Beatrice Mcghee

    March 19, 2020 at 9:43 pm

    I beleive if they are not a threat to society or have a bad crimanal background they should be release with just parole .

  8. Kathy Hardy

    March 20, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    I think they should let out the people with less than 3 years who are not violent offenders. If the prison system gets 1 case of this it could be very deadly for all inmates. Please let these inmates out! Give them a chance.

  9. Heather

    March 22, 2020 at 10:53 pm

    People do not think about these poor men and women, who are basically like sitting ducks. They need to be released. If they have 3 years or less definitely. Think of those who will be so close to their release date…and then they never get that day, due to incompetence of those whose hands they are in. Each and every one of us could be in their shoes, think of it like that. Release these people, give them a chance to live.


    March 29, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    my husband is in prison and was violated for missing an office visit he only as 3monhsleftif he would have been given his jail credits would aleady be out and is needed home very much I have breast cancer and am having to care for them and myself onmy own with nohelp and I have called and and called everyone I could and get I am sorry the governer roycooper cant do anything when we all know he can make a call and our loved ones couldbe home by dark I wish no bad to himor anyone but would love for a ghost like in scooge would come to mr roy cooper and make him see how it is for us poor people he promises on my lords word to do the best to protect and look after and no all he doesis sit up in that fine home we who believed to help the ones who need him and again he sits in his fine house we the peoplevoted to put him in and pray for him to come in our timeof need I willbecalling the channel 8 news and the chanel 12 news in the morning and ask roy coop to let theshort termers with less than 6months out cause they have no chance to keep their distance cause their beds are less than 1 ft apart and making them eat at one at a talbe at a time ok but then they live in a fish bowl of 120 plus men or womancome on they got no chance COME ON ROY COOPER WHAT IF IT WAS YOUR CHILD OR WIFE OR MOM DAD WOULD Y BE ON IY THEN THESES MEN AND WOMAN CALL HOME BEGGING FOR HELP BEFORE IT GETS TO THEM AND I ISSURE YOUWITHIN A WEEK Y WONT HAVE NOONE TO BE CONCERNED WITH CAUSE THEY ALL WILL BE DEAD AND THAT MEANS THIER BLOOD IS ALL ON YOUR HANDS CAN Y LOOK AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR EACH DAY AND KNOW ALL Y HAD TO DO IS PUTTHM ON HOUSE AERREST OR LONGER PAROL TIME FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET THEM COME HOME

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