'All about saving lives:' Fuquay company transforms itself to provide PPE for local jails, prisons amid COVID-19

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (WTVD) -- As family members of state and local inmates across the state wait for word on if their loved one will be granted early-release because of the threat of COVID-19 inside detention facilities, a local company gave ABC11 even more insight about the coronavirus problem inside North Carolina jails and prisons. The company is completely transforming its business model to help make these facilities safer.

"The men and women that find themselves incarcerated in the U.S. are children of God," said Robert Barker, president of the Bob Barker Company, about his company's philosophy on how to save North Carolina jails and prisons from being overrun by COVID-19.


The company, headquartered in Fuquay-Varina, is billed as the largest supplier to detention facilities in the country. You can think of it, like an Amazon for prisons; uniforms, linens, soap, towels inside American jails and prisons are most likely ordered from here.

But, what those facilities are in dire need of right now are tools to fight the coronavirus. Officers and inmates do not have much access to things like masks and gloves that the free world is being advised to use to protect themselves.

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"Jails and prisons are facing the same issue that the entire world is now. There is a complete shortage of personal protection equipment," Barker said.

So Barker's company said it will now spend the remainder of the year following a new business plan: leverage its business relationships with its global supply chain to find new sources of N-95 masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc. for the detention officers and the inmates.

"We're gonna risk millions of dollars and we're gonna go after new suppliers," Barker said. "it is really all about saving lives."

Meanwhile on a Zoom teleconference, advocates for criminal justice reform staged this community discussion. Many of the participants were part of last week's emergency lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper to force him to take action to stop the spread of the coronavirus in state prisons.

"There is no soap. Forget hand sanitizer with alcohol. (Inmates) are sleeping in prison bunks that are less than two feet apart," said Dawn Blagrove, director of Emancipate NC.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the state has begun releasing some non-violent offenders with less than a year left to serve -- roughly 500 inmates.

"Of course (the state) responded and said we're gonna do these things. But these things are mediocre," said Kristie Puckett-Williams of ACLU of North Carolina. "There are 35,000 people in North Carolina prisons. So for them to say that we have a plan to release 500, that's nothing."

Something else the Bob Barker Company is doing right now -- is showing gratitude for local corrections officers. The company catered 400 hot meals for detention officers at the Wake County Jail Tuesday afternoon. And the company plans to provide 400 more on Wednesday.
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