Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, we have had to make adjustments to our lives to prevent the spread of the virus, and North Carolina jails and prisons are no exception. While most of the changes were made with the health of inmates and those who come in contact with them in mind, if you have a family member in prison, you are likely suffering from the uncertainty these new policies have caused.
Here, we answer some frequently asked questions regarding COVID-19 and how it affects you and your family members in prison.
Can I visit my family member in prison?
While the answer right now is probably “no,” it depends on where your family member is being held. For example, beginning on March 16, 2020, the North Carolina Division of Prisons suspended visitation to the state’s prisons. Similarly, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has also suspended family visitation. While county jails set their own policies, they have likely followed suit and have suspended visitations, too, until further notice.
Can my lawyer visit me or my loved ones in prison?
Depending on the facility, legal visits might still be allowed. At the very least, your family member should still have access to phone calls and, in some cases, videoconferences, with his lawyer.
Will cases be delayed?
This depends on whether the defendant’s case is in federal or state court, and where your family member’s case is in the court process. For example, if your family member is awaiting a criminal jury trial, his case will certainly be delayed, as all jury trials in North Carolina have been suspended until August 1, 2020 (at the earliest). Certain hearings, on the other hand, may be held (either in-person or remotely, where possible).
Is a release still possible?
There are a few options for release, both for defendants awaiting arraignment or trial in jail or prison and for those already serving sentences. One possibility is to petition the court for pretrial release, to petition for a bond reduction, or negotiate a plea agreement that would release the defendant. These options are all dependent on the specific facts of a case, so you must consult a North Carolina criminal defense attorney with experience in these matters to assess your options.
When will these restrictions be lifted?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you probably want to know when things will go back to “normal.” When will family visitations resume? When will cases get back on track? Unfortunately, we just do not know. However, please check back periodically as we will post updates with new information as it is made available.