What Happens to Prisoners During a Natural Disaster?

When it comes to natural disasters, society’s most disadvantaged get hit the hardest. When more than a million people in the Southeast scrambled for shelter from Hurricane Florence, states forced those in the prison system to stay put.

Officials in North and South Carolina and Virginia are all endangering thousands of inmates as they keep them in jails and prisons in areas threatened by the hurricane. And they’re using cost as an excuse.

Take South Carolina. Gov. Henry McMaster announced that he wouldn’t evacuate 1,000 prisoners and 100 staffers in and other institutions, even though the state asked for a mandatory evacuation order in that area.

South Carolina has 19,000 inmates statewide, making this human rights violation even more glaring.

As the Care2 team notes, “The cost should not matter, these are human lives. Many of the prisoners at this site have not even seen a judge and are in there on drug charges or other minor and non-violent crimes. They do not deserve to suffer and die.”

Prisoners in New Orleans similarly suffered during Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. As the city got its first mandatory evacuation in history, driving many people to flee, many inmates weren’t among them. Sheriff Marlin Gusman said, “The prisoners will stay where they belong.”

As Vice explains, Gusman said generators and staff would keep the inmates — most of whom weren’t charged with serious crimes — safe.

Instead, a number were abandoned hungry and thirsty without electricity — and, in some cases, the water, reached up to their chests.

At St. Bernard, staff took six hours to evacuate 300 prisoners to a gym at Orleans Parish Prison right before the hurricane. The generators failed, and the space grew dark and filled with water, leaving inmates to eventually break down the security doors to try to escape.

“The prisoners thought we were all planning to leave them to die locked in there,” one guard told Vice, “and I can’t say I blamed them for thinking that.”

According to one Human Rights Watch report, the bodies of 517 prisoners were never found.

This horror show not only says something about how we dehumanize those in our criminal justice system, but also should make us question why we put so many people behind bars in the first place.

Take Action!

Sign this Care2 petition to demand that South Carolina officials remove 1,000 prisoners and 100 employees in Ridgeland Correction Facility and other facilities from danger immediately.

And if you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

 

Photo Credit: National Museum of the U.S. Navy/Flickr

53 comments

Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

What Freya H said, DOUBLE! This is more than disturbing-this is EVIL! Petition signed!

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Angela K
Angela K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thank you.

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thank you.

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Carole R
Carole R2 months ago

Thanks.

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Leo C
Leo C2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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