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Judge won’t order more controls upon NC prison system

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

A North Carolina judge refused on Friday to place more controls upon the state prison system after inmate advocates argued it wasn’t doing what he previously ordered to protect the incarcerated against COVID-19.

Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier wrote there wasn’t enough evidence to issue additional enforcement orders upon the Department of Public Safety and its leaders.

Rozier has been presiding over a lawsuit about health and safety within state prisons during the pandemic. The judge already ordered in June the mass testing of all prisoners. He also said at the time the state should expand the factors that would allow offenders at risk for the virus to be released sooner.

Lawyers for prisoners told Rozier last month that prison officials have failed to adequately address sanitary conditions and that the criteria for the release of prisoners hadn’t been expanded enough. They also made allegations that some prisoners were facing retaliation by prison officials for speaking about poor conditions.

A state attorney representing the department said in a hearing that its leaders were acting in good faith to comply with his previous order, and that many problems being alleged were either isolated or untrue.

The prisoners’ advocates, which included the state NAACP and Disability Rights North Carolina, had also requested that Rozier appoint an outside expert to ensure his previous injunction was carried out.

Rozier said last month he was considering a third party to act as a liaison on safety matters. The special master idea was contained in the motion that Rozier denied on Friday, and he made no reference in his three-page order to a liaison.

More than 2,300 prisoners in state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 11 virus-related deaths, according to the Department of Public Safety website. About 31,500 state offenders are currently incarcerated, compared to about 35,000 before the pandemic.

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