N.C. closes prisons, moves inmates as COVID cases spike

N.C. closes prisons, moves inmates as COVID cases spike
Buses parked at Piedmont Correctional Institution on Tuesday, November 24. (Source: Corey Schmidt)

SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) – Three state prisons have been closed, with hundreds of inmates being transferred to other facilities across the state, as COVID-19 continues to spike within the prison system.

Inmates at Randolph Correctional Center in Randolph County, the minimum custody unit at Southern Correctional Institution in Montgomery County and the minimum custody unit at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Rowan County have been moved.

State prison leaders outline the moves in a briefing to staff on Wednesday.

In the briefing, leaders said the move was due to both an increase in COVID-19 cases among inmates and the number of staff that have been out of work at some facilities.

The state has also maxed out on hospital bed capacity for inmates, the briefing said.

As a result, the state has contracted with Kindred Hospital in Greensboro to use a 20-bed wing to treat inmates.

The Southern CI minimum unit will be used to house inmates who need enhanced healthcare needs.

Staff from Randolph CC will be assigned to work at Kindred Hospital, the briefing said.

Staff from the minimum units at Southern CI and Piedmont CI will be reassigned to the other, higher-custody units at their facility, the briefing said.

For staff at Piedmont CI, the move means they will move from working on a unit with a lesser spread of COVID-19 to one where COVID-19 is widespread.

The medium custody unit at Piedmont CI is on “red status” due to it’s high number of COVID-19 cases.

The moves had not previously been announced.

A court case challenging the prison system’s treatment of prisoners during the pandemic brought by the ACLU had previously led a judge to order prison leaders to stop the large-scale transfer of inmates between prisons.

According to the briefing, 86 inmates were moved from Randolph CC. The briefing does not provide the number of inmates from the minimum units at Southern CI and Piedmont CI.

Leah Kang, an ACLU attorney involved in the lawsuit against the prison system, was not made aware of the inmate transfers by prison officials.

“If they are not testing and/or quarantining each of the incarcerated people they’ve moved around, they would be in violation of the court’s order,” Kang said on Wednesday.

“Even if they are testing and quarantining, closing down prisons, packing more people into the ones that aren’t closed, and moving large groups of people around like this is incredibly dangerous and invites more outbreaks.”

Reached for comment Wednesday morning about the prison closures and inmate transfers, a prison spokesman initially responded as though he was unaware of the moves.

“Which prison closures are you referring to?” spokesman John Bull asked.

Bull sent a press release hours after WBTV first inquired about the moves.

“Stringent COVID-19 medical transportation protocols were used in transferring the offenders to their new prison assignments,” the release said.

“Also, the offenders were transported in cohorts, or groups, that did not mix with each other and were placed in medical quarantine on arrival to their new prison assignments without contact with the general prison populations at those prisons.”

The release also hinted at additional prison closures in the future, too.

“Other prison operation consolidations may be necessary as COVID-19 cases in North Carolina population continue to move in the wrong direction, further impacting the number of hospital beds available for offenders who need advanced medical care, both for the highly contagious virus and other illnesses.”

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