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.