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Six Female Offenders Released Early Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

N.C. Prisons began staff medical screenings to reduce chances of COVID-19 getting into facilities. Efforts began March 20 and were implemented system-wide after no-touch thermometers arrived.
N.C. Department of Public Safety

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina prisons will release some non-violent offenders early, officials with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced Monday.

The prison system announced it released six prisoners, all women who were either pregnant or older than 65 years, factors considered high risk for contracting the disease caused by the coronavirus. The released offenders will serve the rest of their sentence in the community under supervision.

"The department has been reviewing all options to protect public safety as well as our employees and those in the state's custody," Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said in a released statement. "Many of those options were implemented quickly, providing immediate impact, while others have required more preparation."

The decision comes on the heels of news that a 81-year-old inmate died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Charles Richard Rootes died Saturday after receiving treatment for over two weeks. He was diagnosed with the virus on March 26 after being taken to a hospital for respiratory failure.

DPS had taken several steps to help reduce the spread of the virus, however at least 35 prisoners at six facilities contracted COVID-19. In addition, 20 staff from 10 facilities self-reported positive results for the disease.

DPS officials said it was considering as many as 500 more non-violent offenders for release. To be considered, they must fall in one of the following categories:

  • Pregnant offenders
  • Offenders age 65 and older with underlying health conditions
  • Female offenders age 50 and older with health conditions and a release date in 2020
  • Offenders age 65 and older with a release date in 2020
  • Offenders already on home leave with a release date in 2020
  • Offenders on work release with a release date in 2020

Those serving sentences for violent offenses are not eligible.

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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