Hundreds of inmates released early from NC prisons over COVID-19 risk

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Hundreds of inmates have been released early from North Carolina prisons due to COVID-19.

Since March 1, the State Department of Public Safety (DPS) tells CBS 17 it has granted early release for 485 inmates across the state.

Inmates who are released early are non-violent offenders who have underlying health conditions, are pregnant or who are at high-risk for the virus, according to DPS. 

RELATED: Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in NC

An additional 182 are serving the remainder of their sentence outside of prison under strict conditions. The DPS says one person has violated those conditions and returned to prison. 

The ACLU of North Carolina and other civil rights groups believe more inmates should be set free and have filed a lawsuit against the DPS.

“We want DPS and Governor Cooper to understand that the lives of the people who are incarcerated lie in their hands,” said Kristie Puckett Williams, of the ACLU of North Carolina.

She added, “It’s just insufficient. On average, they release 68 people a day anyway. So that’s 476 people in a week. So since March 1, they’ve only been able to do what they would have done in a week anyway? That’s what we’re saying? It’s not enough.”

It’s unclear if or how many other inmates the DPS is considering for early release due to the pandemic.

CBS 17 reached out to Cooper’s office for a comment regarding the lawsuit, but have not yet heard back. 

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