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5 Things To Know: Judge Grants Early Prison Release for 3,500 Amid Pandemic

...and four more stories from Feb. 21-27

early prison release
At least 3,500 people will be let out of state prisons early as part of a settlement in a lawsuit related to COVID-19 risks. (Photo by Josef Kubes/AdobeStock)

Lawsuit Settlement Will Lead to Early Prison Release for 3,500

The parties involved in NC NAACP v. Cooper — a lawsuit brought by civil rights organizations, three individual incarcerated people, and a spouse of an incarcerated person challenging the conditions of confinement in North Carolina’s state prisons as unconstitutional during the COVID-19 pandemic — have reached a landmark settlement that will result in the early release of at least 3,500 people in state custody. 

The number makes it one of the largest prison releases in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the settlement will ensure the state takes measures to mitigate the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s prisons, including through vaccination and safe testing, cohorting, transfer protocols, monitoring, and complaint processes.

Under the terms of the agreement, signed on Feb. 15, state prisons will release 3,500 people currently in its custody within 180 days of a stay, which was granted by Wake County Superior Court Judge Vinston Rozier, Jr. on Thursday of this week. At least 1,500 people are to be released in the first 90 days, with the rest to follow over the following three months. 

The 3,500 early releases required under the settlement will be in addition to the approximately 16% reduction already achieved since the lawsuit was filed less than a year ago. The current population of 28,659 constitutes the lowest state prison population level since the enactment of Structured Sentencing in October 1994.

In a release on Thursday, the Department of Public Safety, which runs the prisons, stated that, over the last year, the department has been “transitioning a select group of people who have nonviolent crimes through the Extended Limits of Confinement (ELC) initiative to complete their sentence in the community in order to reduce the prison population.” More than 1,000 offenders have already been transitioned to ELC.

According to DPS, to be considered for ELC, offenders must not be serving a sentence for a crime against a person during the current incarceration and must meet at least one of the following criteria: be pregnant, already be on home leave with a 2021 projected release date, already be on work release with a 2021 release date, or have a 2021 projected release date. 


COVID-19 Metrics Continue to Drop as Curfew Is Lifted

As Gov. Roy Cooper’s modified stay-at-home was allowed to expire yesterday, lifting the 10 p.m. curfew and pushing back a cut-off for on-site alcohol sales from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., local COVID-19 numbers continued to drop dramatically. Now we’ll just have to see if one the former has an effect on the latter. 

(Graph courtesy of Mecklenburg County Public Health)

According to the latest data from Mecklenburg County Public Health, released Friday afternoon, there had been 95,695 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 861 deaths due to the coronavirus at that time. That’s an increase of 1,945 cases and 18 deaths since the same time last week. According to more in-depth data for cases that had occurred through Wednesday, the average test-positivity rate was at 5.6% for the week, while the average number of people hospitalized on any given day was at 196, the first time that average has dropped below 200 this year. The average countywide test-positivity rate was at 5.7% as of Friday night, closing the gap between the Mecklenburg rate and the statewide rate, which currently stands at 4.7%. 

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, as of Thursday at midnight, the state had administered 2,320,745 total vaccination doses to residents, an increase of 515,281 since the same time last week. That total included 1,336,726 first doses and and 784,205 second doses. In Mecklenburg County, there have been 102,637 first doses and 57,568 second doses administered to residents. That’s an increase of 9,917 first doses and 10,126 second doses compared to the same time last week. 

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U.S. Rep. Alma Adams Argues for Minimum Wage Hike After Setback

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour likely will not be included in the Senate’s version of the upcoming COVID-19 relief bill due to the mechanics of the budget reconciliation process. Though it is still included in the bill that passed through the House of Representatives Friday night, it’s not expected to make it through the Senate. 

Some believe this highlights the need for separate legislation, such as the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, introduced by Congresswoman Alma Adams and other Democratic leaders earlier this year. 

 

During a speech on the House floor on Thursday night, Adams spoke about the importance of a minimum wage increase for her constituents in the 12th district, which covers a large portion of Mecklenburg County.

“It is simply impossible to pay the rent and feed your family when you’re only making twelve hundred and fifty dollars a month. That’s not far off from the average monthly rent for an apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina,” Adams said. “Make no mistake, $7.25 an hour is a poverty wage. That’s why it’s time to raise the wage to 15 dollars an hour. A 15-dollar minimum wage would give 27 million low-wage workers a raise and lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty.”

A January report from the Economic Policy Institute found that an estimated 146,000 workers in the 12th district would receive wage increases if a $15 per hour minimum wage is passed by Congress and signed into law. Of those, 80,000 are women and 66,000 are Black. Twelfth District workers benefiting from the legislation would see an average annual wage increase of 18% or approximately $4,200 in 2020 dollars.


Joel Odom Dead at 22

Joel Odom, known for becoming the youngest person to ever run for mayor of Charlotte in 2019, was found dead in his home on Thursday. His cause of death is unclear. 

(Photo courtesy of Joel Odom Campaign, 2019)

Announcements of Odom’s death sent shockwaves through Charlotte’s political and advocacy communities on Thursday, as Odom was highly active in both fields. Inspired by the loss of several close friends to gun violence, Odom ran in 2019 on his “High Five Issues”: community, housing, economic growth, crime and labor education. Though the race was not closely contested, he had a bright future in politics. 


No Homicides in Charlotte This Week

The headline pretty much explains it. We’ll take whatever good news we can get. 


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