Our Response to COVID-19

Our letter to NC Prisoners

Dear North Carolina Prisoner, Thank you for writing to us concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. This letter will give you information about four things: 1. The Department of Adult Correction’s (DAC’s) very limited extended limits of confinement program 2. Safety in prisons 3. Pending lawsuits and litigation 4. NCPLS communication with clients Feel free to skip to the section below that pertains to your situation. Please be aware that NCPLS is not a branch of the DAC, or even part of North Carolina’s state government. We have no supervisory authority over the DAC, nor any general investigatory authority concerning the way prisons are operated. 1. DAC’s very limited extended limits of confinement program (ELC) We know that many people in prison and their loved ones are worried that continued incarceration will lead to infection. In an effort to reduce the prison population, DAC has awarded sentence credits in some situations that allow some people to be released when they have served their minimum sentence. DAC has also determined certain criteria for identifying people to be released into the community to finish their sentences under supervision. The requirements for being considered for this community release are that the person has not been convicted of a “crime against a person” and meets at least one of the following criteria: · Pregnant women · People on home leave with a release date in 2020 · People on work release with a release date in 2020 · People at least 65 years old with a release date before 2022 · People at least 50 years old with underlying health conditions and a release date before 2023 However, anyone convicted of a “crime against a person” is not eligible. By statute, this excludes anyone convicted of a class A or B1 felony or a crime that requires sex offender registration. Based on the people who have gotten ELC so far, we believe that DPS is also defining a “crime against a person” to include assaults and robberies. If you have one of these convictions, DPS will not release you from prison on extended limits of confinement. If you do meet the above criteria, you should speak with your case manager and request consideration for community transfer. You might also want to file a sick call request if you have pre-existing medical conditions that make you more susceptible to the new coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such conditions include the following: · People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma · People who have serious heart conditions · People who are immunocompromised (based on conditions such as cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications) · People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher) · People with diabetes · People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis · People with liver disease If you have support from people outside of prison, we suggest you have them contact DPS at covid19offenderinfo@ncdps.gov to let DPS know about your medical conditions and ask that you be reviewed for medical release. If you do not meet the criteria for community release and have support from people outside of prison, we suggest that you ask them to take two steps. The first is to try to speak to the District Attorney in the county where you were convicted for consideration of a Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR). While MARs normally can take a very long time to be litigated, an MAR that has the approval of the District Attorney can move quickly. The second step is to have your loved ones contact the Governor's office. The Governor has broad powers to release people from prison. These powers do not require negotiation with the District Attorney, vacating convictions, or imposing new sentences. If you are eligible for parole, your support persons should also contact the Parole Commission. 2. Safety in Prisons DAC has implemented several measures to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including: · suspending all visitations, except legal or pastoral care visits, and those visitors (as well as vendors and others entering a facility) will be subject to medical screenings before any visitations; · drastically reducing transfers to and from prisons; · distributing face coverings to staff and prisoners in facilities where prisoners have tested positive, and as supplies become available, to all staff and prisoners; · screening all prisoners entering a facility for potential signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection and isolating any suspected or confirmed cases; · waiving medical co-pays for people with fever or flu-like symptoms; and · providing additional cleaning supplies and hand cleaners to all prisoners. These measures are currently in line with the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and implemented for your health and safety. What to do if you’re experiencing symptoms. For those who think they might be experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19, including fever, coughing, tiredness, or difficulty breathing, we encourage you to seek immediate medical attention. During this time, you will need to work with prison and medical staff as they may begin experiencing a higher volume of medical requests. To help protect yourself, you might consider taking the following steps: · Request access to necessary supplies, such as extra soap, cleaners, and facemasks. · Request distance from other people – the CDC recommends at least six feet of separation from others. · Request temperature checks with no-touch thermometers if you think you might have been exposed to the virus. If you have a fever, request a COVID-19 test, although tests are still in short supply nationwide. · File a grievance if you have taken the steps above and feel like your health or safety is threatened. Remember that in order to file a lawsuit, you must appeal your grievance to Step Three. Be aware that there is no constitutional right to receive the type of medical treatment you desire. As the world is changing daily due to this pandemic, so is the type of medical care given. There are currently suggested guidelines by the CDC, including quarantining individuals for a period of 14 days if they have been in close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19. It is critical that you make use of Sick Call procedures if you begin to experience symptoms or your symptoms worsen. If you also wrote to us about additional concerns regarding the conditions of your confinement we are also enclosing the letter we normally send out addressing those concerns. However, you should be aware that DAC officials have the right to change policies in order to respond to emergency situations and health concerns, and to maintain safety and security. Therefore, changes to DAC policies in response to the current health crisis may not give rise to constitutional violations. 3. Pending lawsuits and litigation North Carolina courts are currently operating under restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 and many court hearings have been postponed or extended. Please be aware that if you have pending pro se litigation before the North Carolina Industrial Commission or U.S. District Court, you remain responsible for monitoring all court deadlines unless our office has been appointed to assist you with the discovery process or mediation. Filing deadlines have not been extended. Applicable statute of limitations deadlines remain in effect. 4. NCPLS communication with clients In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our office has implemented some changes. Most of our staff is working remotely at this time. We will continue to correspond with you by mail and will work diligently to remain as timely in our responses as possible; however, we anticipate some delay in our response time given the high volume of letters we receive daily and our current restrictions. Please be assured that we remain committed to providing excellent service to our clients. We appreciate your patience during this unprecedented crisis. For the health and safety of our clients and our staff, NCPLS has made the difficult decision to suspend legal visits until further notice. Under certain circumstances, we may be able to schedule legal telephone calls for highly time-sensitive matters such as upcoming hearings and mediation conferences. We are sorry that NCPLS does not have the resources to advocate for everyone affected by the coronavirus. We are concerned about you and understand that this is a frightening time for all incarcerated people in North Carolina. Like you, we hope this virus is eradicated soon. Please let us know if we can be of further service. Sincerely, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc.

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc. 
PO Box 25397
Raleigh, NC 27611

Phone: 919.856.2200