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As hurricane nears, South Carolina won’t evacuate over 900 prisoners in a red zone


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: As hurricane nears, South Carolina won’t evacuate over 900 prisoners in a red zone

  • Man sentenced as ‘career criminal’ gets his first chance at freedom in 48 years

  • Deported before his case was closed

  • Florida voters might lose their chance to reduce incarceration levels

  • Scholar argues to fix, not eliminate, private administration of justice

  • Nashville group aims to end school-to-prison pipeline

  • Louisiana residents will vote on nonunanimous juries

In the Spotlight

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]

Stories From The Appeal

Ken Agtuca and his family at a 2017 pow wow.. [Courtesy of the Agtuca family]

Man Sentenced as ‘Career Criminal’ Gets His First Chance at Freedom in 48 Years. Despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling limiting the mandatory minimum law, few people are seeing relief. [Levi Pulkinnen]

Deported Before His Case Was Closed. Immigrants are being deported while their cases are still pending, immigration attorneys say. [Zack Peterson]

Stories From Around the Country

Florida voters might lose their chance to reduce incarceration levels: “A chance to allow the Legislature to drastically cut Florida’s prison population was knocked off the November ballot Thursday by a Tallahassee circuit judge, but that decision has been stayed pending an appeal,” reports the Florida Times-Union. “The ballot initiative, Amendment 11, has three portions: it would repeal xenophobic language from the Florida Constitution; it would repeal obsolete language; and it would make a highly technical change to the Legislature’s power over criminal sentences.” But a former state Supreme Court justice filed a lawsuit arguing that the amendment “violates voters’ First Amendment rights by bundling three unrelated issues.” The proposal would repeal much of the “savings clause,” an 1880s-era section of the state Constitution that prohibits the legislature from changing criminal sentences after someone has been convicted, which criminal justice advocates, including the ACLU, have said is a crucial way to reduce incarceration levels. [Andrew Pantazi / Florida Times-Union]

Scholar argues to fix, not eliminate, private administration of justice: On the most recent episode of the “Voir Dire” podcast from the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School, John Rappaport spoke about his forthcoming article “Criminal Justice, Inc.,” which asks, “To what extent can criminal justice be privatized?” Rappaport explores the private, for-profit system that major retailers nationwide have begun to employ to settle criminal disputes, “extracting payment from shoplifting suspects for a promise not to call the police.” The article shows “how industry has penetrated new parts of the criminal process, administering deterrent sanctions to resolve thousands of shoplifting allegations each year.” Critics call the practice blackmail and the interviewer rightly points out that it is only an option for those who can afford it, but Rappaport writes, “private justice can be seen as a novel form of decriminalization.” Instead of eliminating it due to its shortcomings, states “should aim to foster optimal conditions for its success.” [Schuyler Daum / Voir Dire]

Nashville group aims to end school-to-prison pipeline: “Last year, 113 students ages 12 and under were arrested in Metro Nashville Public Schools,” reports The Tennessean. “The youngest was a 7-year-old African American boy” who had run away from home. Instead of support at school, children who have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, neglect, or mental illness are arrested over and over. PASSAGE, which stands for Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity, is a community initiative that hopes to change all this. PASSAGE “focuses on racial disparity in punishment.” It has worked with the school district to rewrite its code of conduct, eliminating discipline disparities and introducing positive intervention strategies. It is now, asking the school board to end all out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and arrests for elementary-age students, except in the most serious offenses involving drugs, weapons or violence. [Jessica Bliss / The Tennessean]

Louisiana residents will vote on nonunanimous juries: A Jim Crow-era statute allows a person in Louisiana to be convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, including life without parole, on a 10-2 or 11-1 verdict. Louisiana and Oregon are the only states that allow split-jury verdicts in felony cases. “Lawmakers in Louisiana passed the split-jury rule in 1880 after the 14th Amendment guaranteed all men, including former slaves, the right to vote and serve on juries,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The rule was formally entered into the Louisiana Constitution at the state’s 1898 constitutional convention, where lawmakers declared a mission to ‘perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.’” This has led to suppressing the power of Black jurors and to wrongful convictions. Efforts over the last decade to overturn the rule have been unsuccessful, but in a rare bipartisan move, Louisiana legislators passed a bill in May calling for a referendum, which will allow voters to amend the state’s constitution on Nov. 6. [Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times]

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