A group of inmates at the Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro staged a brief protest Thursday afternoon after learning one of their fellow offenders had tested positive for COVID-19. 

No serious injuries were reported after corrections officers at the prison used “appropriate security measures and appropriate levels of force” to restore order, according to a statement from the Department of Public Safety. 

At about 12:15 p.m., prison warden Morris Reid and members of his custody and medical staff attempted to speak with a group of offenders outside their dormitory about Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that were being deployed after the inmate tested positive. 

Prison officials reported that other inmates from different dorms came outside and refused orders from staff members to go back inside their dorms “in what can best be described as an organized protest.” 

State corrections officials later released a statement Thursday indicating two inmates at the minimum custody prison in Goldsboro, both in their 40s, had tested positive for coronavirus.

The men are the second and third offenders in the state prison system to test positive for the virus. The first offender to test positive, a man in his 60s, in custody at the Caledonia Correctional Institution in Tillery, tested positive on Wednesday.

They are in isolation at Neuse Correctional and are being treated by medical staff.

The men, who live in the same housing unit, both reported symptoms of a viral infection to the prison’s medical staff on March 27. They were quarantined from the general population and tested for the virus. The tests came back positive on Thursday.

They are both in stable condition, prison officials reported.

In addition to taking precautions to prevent anyone else at the prison from becoming infected by the virus, prison officials are identifying others who may have had unprotected contact with the inmates. Those individuals will also be monitored and tested as warranted, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, the entire minimum unit at the prison has been placed on quarantine. The housing dorm where the two prisoners who tested positive were assigned has been placed on lockdown except for recreational time. The inmates will be served meals in their dorm, and both inmates and staff will be issued masks to wear. 

For the past month, state corrections officials say offenders throughout the prison system with fevers, cough, and symptoms of respiratory illness have been quarantined from the prison general population. In addition, new inmates are quarantined for 14 days following initial medical screening for potential COVID-19 symptoms in order to prevent the introduction of the virus into a facility. Prisoner transportation movements are limited to only those that are court-ordered, high-priority, and health-care related. 

Prisoner advocacy groups here in North Carolina and across the country are demanding the release of elderly, vulnerable, and nonviolent inmates to reduce the number of people in custody and mitigate a potentially catastrophic outbreak on a captive population.

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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