We finally have some good news on the prison COVID litigation.

On Friday, December 4, 2020, after a hearing in Wake County Superior Court, Judge Vince Rozier, Jr. appointed a Special Master to oversee the state prison’s compliance with court orders.

The court appointed Thomas Maher, Executive Director of the Center for Science and Justice at Duke University as Special Master. The Special Master will review the state’s “Extended Limits of Confinement” program (ELC), which permits incarcerated people to serve their sentence on home or community confinement, where they can be safer from COVID-19.

In addition to oversight of ELC, and with assistance from North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the Special Master will review the State’s compliance with the court’s orders in the case, including its orders related to COVID-19 testing, safe transfer practices, and ensuring that medical isolation does not resemble punitive and torturous solitary confinement.

The court also authorized the Special Master to determine whether there are other avenues, in addition to ELC, to reduce the prison population, which hovers at 30,000 people.

In addition to the Special Master appointment, the court ordered NCDPS to test prison staff on a biweekly basis.

Emancipate NC’s client, Pamela Humphrey, called us for an update immediately after the hearing.

Upon hearing the news, she stated: “Our prayers are answered. That is some good news.” Ms. Humphrey is ostensibly eligible for ELC, with a Projected Release Date in January 2021. She has several health conditions and an age that put her at elevated risk of COVID-19. Yet, she has not yet been released.

Emancipate NC co-counsels on this case with our friends at the ACLU of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Forward Justice, and the National Juvenile Justice Network.