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Legal settlement will see 3,500 NC prisoners released early: Carolina Public Press's Jordan Wilkie

North Carolina's prisons will release 3,500 inmates over the next 180 days.

Following a landmark civil rights settlement, North Carolina has agreed to release 3,500 prisoners over the next 180 days. The deal follows nearly a year of litigation by the NAACP and several individuals over whether prison conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic are constitutional. WHQR spoke with Jordan Wilkie, who has been covering the story for Carolina Public Press.

From CPP: NC prisons settle NAACP case, agree to fast track release of 3,500 inmates

BS: I’m joined now by Jordan Wilkie --- Jordan, tell us what happened this week with this settlement.

JW: The latest development is that both plaintiffs and defendants have settled the lawsuit with an agreement to release a significant number of people --- ,3500 people over the next 180 days, with at least 1,500 of those releases coming in the next 90 days. 

BS: This has been called a landmark settlement --- how does it compare other agreements?

JW: Just on the face of it, this looks like one of the largest if not the largest population reductions as a consequence of a settlement during the Covid-19 pandemic that's happened in the country. Although the devil's in the details a little bit about what the actual impact on prison population will be. But it at least at first glance, looks quite significant.

BS: What type of incarcerated people are being released?

JW: Well, certainly, it seems like folks who are looking like they're going to be released anyway, in the next six months, or in the next year, will be prioritized for these, quote, unquote, early releases, or sorry, early reentries. So these are folks who are getting close to their release date, who typically have crimes that are not against people. In terms of demographics, this is not targeted in any way toward releasing younger folks, older folks, people who have certain offenses, racial demographics, anything like that.

BS: How does this fit into ongoing concerns about the North Carolina prison system?

JW: I think the most ongoing concern about North Carolina's prison system is its short staffing. This has been the focus of a [North Carolina State] Senate Select Committee about prison conditions, since there were riots and ultimately, the killing of correctional staff a couple of years ago, in North Carolina --- the killings in one particular North Carolina prison, but also riots and unrest and civil prisons, associated with short staffing. This has been just severely exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

BS: And, are there other requirements of the state prison system in this agreement?

JW: Yes. So this is a time limited agreement that is in effect for a year or until the state of emergency is lifted, which basically says for the duration of the pandemic, the prison population needs to be reduced, and the population can't go up again, once that production is achieved. So this isn't a long term sort of permanent reduction and monitoring of the prison population. This is a specific response to the current pandemic. 

BS: Jordan Wilkie from Carolina Public Press, thanks so much for joining us.

JW: Alright, absolutely.



Jordan Wilkie is a Report for America corps member and is the lead contributing reporter covering election integrity, open government, and civil liberties for Carolina Public Press. On Twitter @jojot_wilkie. Email jwilkie@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.