Sunday, August 28, 2011

Capitalist Disregard for Prisoners Revealed through Hurricane Irene

Even if the worst of the potential destruction warned about through Hurricane Irene did not happen, the criminal nature of this system was revealed.  Bloomberg openly and unapologetically admitted that he had no plan for how to evacuate Rikers Island should the need arise.

During his last press conference of the day, the Mayor asserted that Rikers Island wasn't in Zone A.  However, he still did not say what zone it was in nor why he felt it was acceptable to have no back-up plan for evacuation should the need have arisen.

12,000 inmates are housed on Rikers Island.  Prisoners are human beings.  Think of the fear they must have gone through.  Think of the anxiety their families experienced.

No matter what an inmate has done (and many of the people being held at Rikers are pre-trial and haven't even been convicted of a crime), the kind of terror of being locked up and left behind with no backup emergency plan in a Hurricane that is being forecast to cause major destruction is CRUEL AND UNUSUAL punishment.  It is inhumane and unacceptable.

Even if no harm has come to any prisoner (something we have no confirmation of yet), this does not change the fact that the Mayor of NYC was willing to gamble with the lives of 12,000 prisoners.  And it doesn't change the fact that no one in any other wing of the U.S. government and state felt the need to override him or criticize him for that.

This is barbaric and must be condemned.

Here is an excerpt of's web posting recalling the experience of prisoners during Hurricane Katrina: 

For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. According to a report produced by the ACLU:
[A] 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 …
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.
UPDATE (Saturday midnight): In his final news conference of the day, Mayor Bloomberg defended his decision not to evacuate Rikers Island, stating: “It is higher than the Zone A areas and it’s perfectly safe.” Representatives of the mayor have made further statements to New York Magazine (see update at end) and the Wall Street Journal, also specifying that no part of Rikers Island is in Zone A. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson went on Twitter to say the same thing. To our knowledge, the mayor’s office still has not clarified what zone, if any, Rikers Island is in, and has not responded to questions regarding the lack of any evacuation plan for the jail.
UPDATE (Sunday 4 p.m.): The evacuation order for Zone A has ended, with the storm having considerably less impact on New York City than anticipated. The mayor’s office has issued further statements about Rikers, confirming that it is not in evacuation Zone A and comparing it to Roosevelt Island and City Island, which also were not evacuated. Critics have noted, however, that these other islands are in Zones B and C, while Rikers Island, according to the evacuation map, is not in any evacuation zone at all. Advocates also remain concerned about the admitted lack of any evacuation plan for the city’s island jail. The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement on the matter, and CCR spokesperson Jen Nessel said: “The maps I’ve seen all leave Rikers off the Zone scale, but even if it isn’t in Zone A where the mandatory evacuations are taking place, the fact that the Department of Corrections admitted there wasn’t even a hypothetical plan for 12,000 people who can’t exactly evacuate themselves if the situation worsens is disturbing.”

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posted by Sunsara Taylor at 8:17 PM


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