The number of COVID-19 deaths and cases in 2020 at Raleigh’s two prisons should be cause for very serious concern.

By the end of 2020, North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety reported 35 offender deaths due to COVID-19. Raleigh’s Central Prison reported four confirmed offender deaths from the virus, more than any other correctional facility in the state except for Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw, which also reported four deaths.

The N.C. Correctional Institution for Women, or NCCIW—which is also in Raleigh—reported two additional COVID deaths. It’s the state’s “primary correctional facility for women” and “houses the largest offender population in the state,” according to the Department of Public Safety’s website.

(There are currently 2,090 female offenders in North Carolina state prison and 27,231 male offenders, according to the state, which is the lowest offender population in 25 years. Multiple groups have called on states and local municipalities to decarcerate prison and jail inmates to reduce the risk of COVID’s spread in the congregate living facilities.)

As the year ends, Central Prison is reporting 43 active COVID cases out of a total of 70 positive tests this year. That’s much lower than NCCIW a few minutes away. There are currently 52 active cases at the women’s facility, but 340 inmates at NCCIW tested positive in 2020.

There are more active cases at NCCIW in Raleigh than any other state correctional institution save for Craven Correctional in Vanceboro, where there are 59 active cases as of December 31.

Looking at 2020 as a whole, the Raleigh-based women’s facility experienced more positive COVID cases than almost every correctional institution in North Carolina—only Scotland, Albermarle, Warren, Craven, and Tabor reported more cases. Tabor Correctional Institution in Columbus County had the most total, reporting 563 in 2020 (and two deaths, the same as NCCIW).

There are currently no active cases at Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough, but 72 inmates did test positive there over the course of 2020—slightly more than Central Prison. Fortunately, there were no confirmed COVID-related offender deaths at the Orange County facility.

The state’s testing within prisons didn’t meaningfully roll out until July. Several months after the first confirmed COVID cases in North Carolina, only 6,875 inmate tests had been performed by July 1. But by August 1, that figure had shot up to 35,447 tests, according to the state Department of Public Safety’s website. As of December 30, a total of 80,214 inmate tests had been completed for the year on a total of 37,304 inmates. 

The good news—only eight inmates are currently hospitalized, and the overwhelming majority of those who tested positive are presumed recovered at this point. In all, 7,489 North Carolina prison inmates tested positive for COVID in 2020 (as of December 30), and 6,238 are now presumed recovered, the state reported. There are still 517 active cases.

Despite an astronomical national surge in virus cases, the average number of positive inmate tests has fallen in the last month. On December 2, the average number stood at 82 positive daily cases. By December 31, that number had fallen to 23 average positives. The average number of offenders hospitalized also fell from an average high of 17 on December 3 to an average of just 8 by the year’s end.

It’s not clear if the decline in positive cases is partly due to a drop in testing—the seven-day testing average on December 2 was nearly 1,000, but it stood at about 200 by December 31 after consistently falling all month.

This data also doesn’t cover county jails like the Durham County Detention Facility, which has been linked to multiple COVID deaths this year.

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