Prisoners to be Left Behind in Hurricane

By Michaela Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

As Hurricane Florence heads inland, millions have been ordered to flee their homes. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have all issued evacuation orders in order to prevent loss of life due to the hurricane. Despite this, some people are currently being forced to stay put.

In South Carolina, the inmates of at least two prisons inside the mandatory evacuation zones will not be evacuated. Meanwhile, in Virginia and North Carolina, some prisons have already been evacuated.

Hurricane Florence, while having dropped to a Category 1 hurricane, is still expected to have winds stronger than 80 mph and storm surges as high as 9 to 13 feet.

“Tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded, and many more by rising rivers and creeks,” says North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Even worse: Florence is expected to hover over the Carolinas at least through Saturday.

So why not just evacuate the inmates? They’re in the mandatory evacuation zone, so why not evacuate them with everyone else?

“In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there,” a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections said.

In 2005, as Hurricane Katrina beat down on New Orleans, the sheriff’s department had abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail as Hurricane Katrina came down on New Orleans. The inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, had not been evacuated until four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

According to the inmates interviewed by the Human Rights Watch, they had no food or water until they had been evacuated days later. The generators had died, leaving them without lights and sealed in without air circulation. The toilets backed up, creating an unbearable stench.

“They left us to die there,” Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate had told the Human Rights Watch.

Some inmates say they saw dead bodies floating in the water and Human Rights Watch claimed that 517 prisoners had gone missing.

During Hurricane Harvey, Texas inmates who were not evacuated experienced a shortage of food and water and poor access to medicine. Similarly, Hurricane Irma saw nearly 4,500 prisoners in Florida remaining in place.

And yet, despite history proving time and time again that it’s not safe to leave prisoners behind, the South Carolina Department of Corrections is leaving 934 inmates and 119 staff members behind to ride out the storm, alone.

Since evacuation can be ‘expensive and resource-intensive’ at a time when supplies are stretched or running out, inmates are forced to endure possible dangerous conditions.

This isn’t a matter of safety, it’s a matter of priority. It’s quite clear that just by these incidents alone, prisoners are not a top priority. Just because they’ve committed crimes, they aren’t worthy of being evacuated ahead of time like everyone else.

Hopefully, the inmates and staff who are currently enduring the wrath of Hurricane Florence come out safe and sound with no casualties.