Hundreds considered to complete their prison sentence in the community, DPS says

Updated: Apr. 13, 2020 at 3:39 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The NC department of public safety announced extraordinary measures Monday to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s prisons.

The department says they began the transition last week to allow some individuals to continue to serve their sentence in the community. So far, six women who are either pregnant or over the age of 65 years old have been transferred to the community.

In the past few weeks, DPS has suspended visitation, volunteers and work release programs as a result of the pandemic. Extra cleaning measures have been implemented, staff and new offenders are screened for the virus and inmate transfers have been put to a halt.

“We’re specifically looking at people within the department of adult corrections who are the most vulnerable to frankly serious illness and death if they were to get COVID, just like we’re saying the same thing in the general population," said District Attorney Ben David. “The Sheriff’s Association, the conference of district attorneys, others who work on community safety everyday have had active conversations to make sure that the right people are remaining in custody and we believe that the right people are.”

According to the press release, the department is considering a list of 500 people to transition to the community to complete their sentence. None of them have been convicted of a violent crime and they must fall into one of the following categories:

· Pregnant offenders

· Offenders age 65 and older with underlying health conditions

· Female offenders age 50 and older with health conditions and a release date in 2020

· Offenders age 65 and older with a release date in 2020

· Offenders already on home leave with a release date in 2020

· Offenders on work release with a release date in 2020

“The department has been reviewing all options to protect public safety as well as our employees and those in the state’s custody,” Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said in a press release. “Many of those options were implemented quickly, providing immediate impact, while others have required more preparation.”

A separate project is also underway to reduce the number of people in prisons by awarding “time credits,” allowing some to reduce their maximum sentence and be released after completing their minimum sentence.

In March alone, more than 300 offenders originally scheduled for release in April, May or June, were transitioned to post-release supervision by completing their minimum sentence. Through this process, many individuals who were scheduled for release this spring or early summer have already been discharged or are on an expedited schedule to be discharged.

More than 35 offenders in six different facilities, including Pender County’s correctional institution, have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. Twenty staff members at ten facilities have also self-reported positive test results for the virus.

Over the past month the New Hanover County’s jail population has decreased from 535 to 424 inmates and Pender’s jail has decreased from 89 to 59 in the same time period.

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