In February 2021, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSR) provided a $62,400 grant to North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (NCPLS), a nonprofit and nonpartisan law firm that works to correct unlawful criminal sentences and advocate for safe, humane and constitutional prison conditions. Funding was provided to directly support North Carolina’s inmates during a critical time with the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 highlighted the state’s staffing shortage across North Carolina’s correctional facilities. Due to overcrowding in the state’s prisons, and at the time, less personal protective equipment and the ability to practice minimal social distancing, COVID-19 became a serious concern within North Carolina’s prisons when this grant was awarded.
ZSR’s grant funding will be used to hire an attorney to provide advocacy to facilitate early releases for inmates or help identify new factors for inmates to reach their sentence release dates sooner, many of whom are serving time for non-violent drug related offenses. The hope is to significantly reduce the prison population to lessen unnecessary COVID-19 exposure among inmates and prison staff.
“Many inmates are living in conditions that continue to put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Elizabeth Thomas, executive director of NCPLS. “There is still much to be done to keep our clients safe due to rising numbers and low vaccination rates among correctional staff. Our hope is that with this funding, we can find a way to provide relief to incarcerated individuals during this crisis.”
“ZSR’s mission includes providing support to some of our state’s most underrepresented communities,” said Maurice “Mo” Green, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. “We recognize that inmates living in close quarters are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, which has already taken the lives of so many across our nation. The hope is that this funding will allow NCPLS to facilitate ways to reduce the prison population and help many individuals avoid exposure to the virus.”