As hurricane nears, South Carolina won’t evacuate over 900 prisoners in a red zone
Despite an evacuation order for the area, while nearly a million leave their homes before Hurricane Florence hits, 934 inmates and as many as 119 prison staff members were ordered to stay behind. “Right now, we’re not in the process of moving inmates,” South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesperson Dexter Lee said. “In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there.” Ridgeland, which houses two prisons, falls within a red area on the evacuation map, meaning evacuation is most crucial. “We know the evacuation order I’m issuing will be inconvenient,” Governor Henry McMaster said during a press conference. “But we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.” Except, apparently, for prisoners and some prison staff. Guards are not allowed to opt out of work during Hurricane Florence. [Emily Bohatch / The State] Prisoners in Virginia, however, have been evacuated.
“Since at least 2004, the intensity of hurricanes and the damage they have caused in America has increased significantly,” writes William Omorogieva in a paper published this year by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. “However, even with increased calls for evacuations, warnings from public officials, and around the clock media coverage, a significant portion of the population has continued to be overlooked during times of natural disasters. This neglected group of citizens ‘left out of sight and out of our hearts’ during natural disasters are [prisoners].” The paper explores “the culture of neglect regarding prisoner safety and well-being during natural disasters.” It also reviews the shortcomings of existing legal protections, including the Eighth Amendment and the National Environmental Policy Act, in addition to inadequate prison emergency planning. [William Omorogieva / Sabin Center for Climate Change Law]
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the ACLU reported that over 6,500 prisoners were abandoned at the Orleans Parish Prison by the authorities without access to food, water, or ventilation. One 13-year-old girl in the prison’s youth center was moved to an area next to an adult male holding area where the men watched her relieve herself publicly. As the building flooded, she spent days in toxic water up to her neck. Adult prisoners rescued her and the other children from the waters. A guard at the psychiatric ward “was locked in during his shift to prevent desertion, and was then ordered to go to the roof with a shotgun and shoot anyone trying to leave one of the flooded buildings.” [ACLU]
An American University Law Review article documents the horrors endured by those incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison during Katrina, including “days of rising, toxic waters, a lack of food and drinking water … beatings at the hands of guards [and finally being] marooned in correctional institutions throughout the state, as the judicial system in New Orleans ceased to function.” Robbins argues that “prison administrators have a constitutional duty to plan for emergencies, and argues that the failures of New Orleans officials to do so violated prisoners’ Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights, as well as internationally recognized human rights standards. With the wealth of training and planning materials available to prison officials and the knowledge of possible emergencies, it is unconscionable for prisons to have nonexistent or inadequate plans.” The article recommends “that states develop mechanisms, such as emergency courts, to enable the administration of justice to resume promptly following serious natural or man-made disasters.” [Ira P. Robbins / American University Law Review]
New York had no evacuation plan for Rikers Island during Hurricane Sandy, even though the jail, which housed 12,000 people at the time, was close to areas zoned for evacuation. In response to a question about the island’s evacuation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, seeming to misunderstand, responded: “[On] Rikers Island, the land is up where they are and jails are secured. … Don’t worry about anybody getting out.” [Alyssa Rinaldi / NYU Local]
During Hurricane Maria, people detained in a federal jail were locked in their cells for a week. Toilets overflowed, and the water containing human waste mixed with flood waters, spreading across the cells. During the eventual evacuation, guards forced prisoners to lie face-down in the water. Those who refused were either pepper-sprayed or shot with rubber bullets. Eventually, by the time prisoners were hosed down and moved, in their wet clothes, to a federal prison in Mississippi and were given water and a sandwich, they had not been fed in over 24 hours. [Nick Chrastil / ThinkProgress]
The Marshall Project reported that evacuation would be difficult for many Puerto Ricans during Maria, but predicted that “it will be harder still for people who are incarcerated in Puerto Rico’s 29 territorial and federal prisons” because “the prisons are clustered around eight complexes across the island, most along the coast and near high-risk flood areas.” [Yolanda Martinez and Anna Flagg / Marshall Project]