On the Buncombe County Detention Center in pandemic: On April 14, there were 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Neuse Correctional Institution in Eastern North Carolina.
On April 16, 259 inmates, one-third of the prison’s population, were asymptomatic but tested positive. By April 20, 458 inmates tested positive.
This confirmed the long-standing fear of prisoners, medical professionals, prison abolitionists and prison staff: Prevention of asymptomatic viral transmission within prison is impossible.
BCDC is not a closed system: Arrests are made, inmates released, shifts changed, officers are trickling in and out. The population of BCDC is inextricable from the general population of our community.
Therefore, BCDC will pose serious health risks to our entire community until its population is capped at 130 inmates — 10 inmates or less in each of the 13 housing units (re: executive order on mass gatherings).
How to do it:
1. Request the Bureau of Prisons to offer pretrial release to all eligible federally detained inmates housed in the BCDC. Refuse to house federal inmates, effective June 1 (87 federally detained inmates housed in BCDC, as of April 18).
2. Require law enforcement officers to issue citations instead of arrests for nonviolent offenses. Suspend officers making unnecessary physical arrests.
3. Keep releasing pretrial offenders whenever possible, ASAP. Implement countywide moratorium on cash bail.
4. Require prison staff and law enforcement officers to self-quarantine while off duty; offer them free housing in hotels during the North Carolina state of emergency.
5. Encourage decarcerated inmates to self-quarantine for two weeks following their release; offer them personal protective equipment and three weeks of free housing in hotels — within walking distance of essential services.
Our prison system puts all of Buncombe at risk. Empty the BCDC!
— David Saulsbury
Editor’s note: An April 21 article in the Citizen Times, “Coronavirus: Buncombe Jail Population Down Almost 200 Since COVID-19 Response Began,” outlines steps being taken at Buncombe County’s jail in response to the pandemic. Also, an article published by Carolina Public Press, “Court Hears Arguments in Lawsuit Seeking Prisoner Releases,” reports on a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court to require the state to release “a significant number of people” currently in the state’s prison system because of COVID-19 concerns. On May 14, CPP reported that the judge in the case denied the lawsuit.