Philip Vance Smith II, an incarcerated Emancipate NC client, wrote about prison overcrowding in North Carolina in the Huffington Post, concluding that safety requires massive releases from prison:

In 2002, I was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Although I’ve never been cited for violence while incarcerated, I’m as familiar with human brutality as a shellshocked combat veteran. Until recently, I had never considered understaffing a contributor to violence and recidivism. I do now.

When Derek Chauvin, the disgraced former police officer convicted in the 2020 killing of George Floyd, was stabbed 22 times in a federal prison last year, staffing was found to be an issue at the facility. The same was true at the correctional institutions where mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in 2018 and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide a year later. Such polarizing cases raised public concern, but only we — the incarcerated — know what it’s like to live in fear, not knowing whether there will be enough correctional officers on staff to stop someone from bashing in your head with a wooden cane.

Nash is just one institution, but it illustrates how this nationwide understaffing nightmare has gotten out of control.

North Carolina’s governor and legislature are the only entities that can eliminate understaffing in state prisons.

Gov. Roy Cooper can grant clemency to older prisoners who pose no threat to society. He can also grant conditional release to those who have served over 20 years — in other words, those who have aged out of crime. It’s not an unreasonable ask, and he holds the sole power to do it.

In 2021, Cooper agreed to release 3,500 prisoners (note from Emancipate NC: at least 4,500 were actually released and the prison population plummeted to the lowest level since parole was abolished in 1994) following a settlement with advocacy groups [including Emancipate NC] who sued about overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we shouldn’t have to file lawsuits to compel a commonsense mass release to address the understaffing epidemic.

Additionally, North Carolina’s conservative-led legislature should consider returning to a system of parole that allows incarcerated people to earn their way out of prison. Our current mandatory minimum sentencing scheme obstructs rehabilitation by removing incentives, such as early release, that help compel broken people to seek paths of repair. Only North Carolina’s legislature can create meaningful change in this way, but they have not overcome their partisan differences to convert state prisons into institutions of change from the dungeons of despair that most are now.

Click here to read the full article →