Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for 370,000 New York city residents to evacuate from low-lying areas. The city started evacuating hospitals and nursing homes in Zone A on Friday and as of 12 noon today, Saturday, the entire mass transit system of 468 subway stations and 840 miles of tracks, buses and commuter trains has been shut down. Said Bloomberg at a Friday news conference on Coney Island:
“It is going to be a very serious thing as far as we can tell now. This is going to be a very serious storm no matter what the track is.”
“Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish and it’s against the law.
However, a significant population is getting left behind, the approximately 12,000 inmates on Rikers Island, located between Queens and the Bronx in the East River. At Friday’s news conference, Bloomberg said “We are not evacuating Rikers Island.” According to the New York Times City Room blog, the Department of Corrections says that there is “no plan” to evacuate Rikers Island inmates:
..no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another.
As Solitary Watch says, Rikers Island is, like New York’s other small islands and barrier beaches, in Zone A. However, Rikers Island “is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.” More than three-quarters of the island is landfill — “which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters” — according to the NYC Department of Correction’s own website. Among the inmates are many with mental illnesses, not to mention pre-trial detainees who have not yet been charged with a crime.
So what’s going to happen to them when Irene hits?
Solitary Watch cites an ACLU report about what happened to inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina:
The ACLU report describes a history of neglect at Orleans Parish Prison, one of the most dangerous and mismanaged jails in the country. This culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.
As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests.
“The sheriff’s office was completely unprepared for the storm,” said Tom Jawetz, Litigation Fellow for the National Prison Project. “The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did more for its 263 stray pets than the sheriff did for the more than 6,500 men, women and children left in his care.”
Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.
After “days of fear and chaos,” the state of Louisiana ordered the evacuation of the prisoners to jails and prisons around the state, with many men first sent to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center “where they were placed outdoors in a yard with inadequate food, medical care, and protection from other prisoners, many of whom were armed with makeshift weapons.” Prisoners attacked other prisoners as guards stood by.
Bloomberg said that “no one would be fined for violating the city’s evacuation orders” and that “nobody’s going to go to jail” — but those who are in jail will apparently be left to take their chances and ride out the hurricane.
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Photo by U.S. Geological Survey, via Wikimedia Commons