Where Do U.S. Prisoners Go During Natural Disasters?

Plans are set for American citizens in the path of natural disaster. When those disasters are on the way, residents get to evacuate; in dire situations, evacuation is issued as mandatory.

What about the people who are not able to evacuate, even in those urgent cases?

Prisoners often do not get the chance to leave for safety. They are left without a say to buckle down in their cells through the harshest of storms. This often makes for unusually poor living conditions. 

This problem was as evident in the most recent Hurricane Florence as it was in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. During Katrina, thousands of inmates were left to fend for themselves in Orleans Parish Prison, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

ACLU’s National Prison Project released a report comprised of accounts of these inmates during this time, and the stories are grim. 

“As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness,” ACLU said. “Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage tainted water up to their chests.”

The article quotes Tom Jawetz of the Litigation Fellow for the National Prison Project, saying Louisiana did more for its stray pets than the sheriff did for his thousands of prisoners.

These men and women were left without facilitators to provide for them. They did not have food or water for days and were left to sit in unsanitary conditions until security came back for them.

 Eventually, the state ordered the prisoners of OPP to evacuate—after days of cruel survival.

Likewise, when South Carolina was anticipating Hurricane Florence to strike, the state governor Henry McMaster called for a mandatory statewide evacuation for residents along the coast, but several prisons kept their doors locked, The New Yorker said. Speaking with The New Yorker Daniel Gross, an anonymous source from inside the prison claimed that the prisoners were not even allowed “bottles or buckets” for extra water storage. 

“Past hurricanes have devastated prisons across the country,” said Gross.

The decision to keep inmates in their cells is typically labeled as a security precaution. It is seen as high risk to transport so many inmates at once. 

More and more people are beginning to question the care for incarcerated people in America. This problem in particular follows suit among the many flaws of the United States prison system. Does being a prisoner mean he or she deserves to be seen as something less than human?