News media are comparing Hurricane Irene to Hurricane Katrina in ways that allow us to forget that Hurricane Katrina was a humanmade disaster, but in one way, these events are similar – prisoner evacuation. New Orleans officials chose not to evacuate 7,000 inmates, some of whom were trapped in flooded cells and later left on a bridge for days without food and water, as detailed in this post. Officials in New York have made the same decision with Hurricane Irene.
Elizabeth Furth, a former student who has participated in rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, sent in this map showing that Rikers Island is not part of the City’s evacuation plan.
Mayor Bloomberg announced that Riker’s Island would not be evacuated at a recent press conference, despite the fact that the island is surrounded by areas with the second highest evacuation rating (Zone B). Other New York islands on the map are in Zone A (mandatory evacuation) or Zone B, but Riker’s has no evacuating rating, perhaps because the Department of Corrections doesn’t have an evacuation plan. According to the New York Times blog, “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.”
Solitary Watch reports that Rikers Island was built on landfill, which is especially vulnerable to disasters. Rikers Island may weather Hurricane Irene without incident, but this disaster has again revealed how prisoners are considered disposable in times of crisis.