Saturday, December 9, 2023

Prison guidelines changing to allow for post-sentencing transfer of offenders out of Covid-19 hot spot jails

N.C. prisons haven’t been accepting post-sentence transfers from county jails with high Covid-19 spread. A new policy could reverse that. (Port City Daily/File photo)

The state agency in charge of prisons and the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association are in talks on a policy that would allow county jails facing high levels of Covid-19 spread to transfer sentenced inmates to the N.C. Division of Prisons. 

Currently, the state prison system does not accept offenders from jails that are on “red status,” a label used when Covid-19 outbreaks are present, according to a DOP spokesperson.

The Division of Prisons “is working in partnership with the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association to develop processes to be able to more safely accept prison-sentenced offenders from a county jail or detention facility that is on red status due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in those jails,” the spokesperson emailed Port City Daily.

According to a draft memo obtained by Port City Daily, DOP and the Sheriff’s Association “have agreed upon certain guidelines that must be met to initiate the transfer of an offender from a jail to DOP after sentencing.” 

“I realize that our current backlog situation is causing challenges as covid-19 continues to impact corrections across our state,” commissioner of prisons Todd Ishee wrote in the Sept. 16 memo. “DOP is continuing to process new admissions, and this plan should enable our processing centers to safely work toward elimination of our current backlog situation.”

The agreement concerns jails where Covid-19 spread is active, and would make a path for inmates to be transferred out of those hot-spot facilities into the prison system after their sentencing. Around a quarter of jails are on “red status,” the spokesperson added.

“In recent months, we have found 80-85% of the new cases of COVID-19 in the prison population are offenders identified as COVID-positive upon arrival to prison after transfer from a county jail,” the spokesperson wrote. New arrivals to prisons are tested for Covid-19 and their vaccination status is verified; “and if unvaccinated, educated and offered vaccination.”

“Newly arrived offenders to prison continue to represent the greatest risk for introduction of the virus to staff and other offenders in the prison system, and positive cases significantly impair operations.”

The draft policy opens different routes for offenders to be transferred out of the red status jails post-sentencing. Jails could request transfers, under the draft policy, for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Further, if the individual went into isolation for 14 days, and punctuated it with a negative PCR test, the jail could apply to move them to prison. Lastly, offenders recently recovered from Covid-19 would be eligible too. 

The Covid-19 data dashboard for prisons shows there are 82 reported active cases across the state facilities and only one current hospitalization as of early Friday afternoon. There are almost 29,000 offenders in the state prisons, and more than 70% of them are vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the DOP spokesperson.

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