Be sure to check out his morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal, which does a fine job of explaining a vigil that’s being held outside of the Governor’s mansion to call for action to address the ongoing crisis that’s taking place right now in our state’s prisons.
This is from “For inmates, COVID shouldn’t be a death sentence”:
On Sunday, about 40 protesters marched around the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to use his pardon and clemency powers to free prisoners who are at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.
It would be an unconventional solution, but as demonstrator Daniel Bowes said at the protest, “It’s the most flexible and direct path to both protect people from COVID in prison, but also to end mass incarceration.”
Dramatic steps may be necessary. Prison inmates, with few protections available in their closed environments, are an especially vulnerable population.
…Last week, North Carolina authorities reported more than 4,500 cases and 22 deaths within its state prisons. That’s triple the number of cases since July. Nearly 200 new positive cases have been identified so far this month.
And that’s just the state prisons. At Butner Correctional Complex, North Carolina’s only federal prison, 26 prisoners have died; that’s more than at any other federal prison. More than 900 Butner inmates have tested positive.
Interestingly, Cooper has not used his pardon power as Governor. This is from a story in Raleigh’s News & Observer:
Without action, in the next few weeks, Cooper will become the first North Carolina governor in the last 40 years to not grant a single commutation or pardon in a term, the group says.
“He has participated in the system of mass incarceration and the system of racial inequity. But there are some changeable ways that he can provide relief to folks who are incarcerated. Their families are reminding him of that power and telling him that we support him using the power,” Kristie Puckett Williams, manager of the ACLU of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said in an interview with The News & Observer.
And as the Journal editorial explains, this would be an excellent time for him to act — especially in light of the fact that so many prisons are acting as super-spreader locales that infect guards and other personnel, who then return to the community each day:
“It is not acceptable to be telling incarcerated people and their families that they just have to wait. We are several months into this pandemic and experts tell us it could be another year, possibly more, before this pandemic is fully resolved. People’s lives are at stake and the state needs to do more to bring the state prison population under control,” [ACLU attorney Leah] Kang said.
Cooper should do what he can to release nonviolent inmates to house arrest. Shrinking the prison population makes the situation safer for them, for prison employees and for the prisoners who must remain incarcerated.
Click here to read the entire editorial.
(Disclosure: Attorney Daniel Bowes works for the North Carolina Justice Center, parent organization of NC Policy Watch.)