Civil rights groups sues governor, seek release of inmates amid COVID-19 spread
Posted April 8, 2020 3:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2020 12:21 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A coalition of civil rights groups filed suit against the Cooper administration Wednesday, seeking the immediate release of state prison inmates who are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19.
The emergency petition filed with the Supreme Court says Gov. Roy Cooper and Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks "each have a legal duty to act to protect the people incarcerated in North Carolina's adult and juvenile facilities."
The suit was filed on behalf of the NAACP, Disability Rights North Carolina and the ACLU of North Carolina, as well as four inmates and the spouse of an inmate.
"North Carolina courts did not sentence thousands of people to suffer and potentially die from a pandemic," state ACLU legal director Kristi Graunke said in a statement. "Numerous people who are incarcerated right now could be sent home to live safely with their families without posing a danger to the public."
“Prison is no place to be during an unprecedented pandemic that has overwhelmed even the best health care systems in this country,” said state NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman. “We cannot leave our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated – and who are disproportionately black and brown – to die behind bars during this global emergency.”
Two weeks ago, the ACLU, NAACP and other groups petitioned Cooper and state prison officials to expedite the release of certain inmates, especially the elderly and chronically ill, in hopes of heading off widespread prison outbreaks.
Cooper's office didn't respond to a request for comment.