Prison Industrial Hurricane
As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated Florida and Texas, it was disheartening to hear that some incarcerated men and women remained in federal correctional facilities throughout the massive flooding. Those inside are often forgotten about during natural disasters, but that does not make this behavior acceptable. It’s as if they are out of sight out mind, but this cannot be the response.
Prisons are often tucked away from the public’s eye. This allows those of us on the outside to be alienated from the folks inside. This barrier allows us to forget about our most vulnerable at our toughest times, but we cannot. The Federal Bureau of Prisons should be held accountable for their actions. They cannot be allowed to leave people without food or water. The bureau needs to establish protocols to ensure that people in prison are safe during hurricanes and other natural disasters.
As Harvey passed over Texas, I was relieved to see Floridian Correctional Officials had started to evacuate inmates because of predicted damage Hurricane Irma would have on the state of Florida. But as the storm got closer to Florida evacuations stopped and many folks remained stuck inside the cells. This is inhumane.
The major reason officials lacked the ability to fully execute evacuation plans was because the prison system is bursting at its seams. The overcrowding of facilities makes it challenging to move folks from one overpopulated facility to another overpopulated facility.
Sadly, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were not the first time that people in prison were abandoned. During Hurricane Katrina folks inside were left in their cells. The constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, but this seems cruel to me. The federal government cannot violate the constitution just because of an extreme weather event. It seems that the federal government has learned nothing from Hurricane Katrina. We do not even leave our zoo animals without food or water—why should our loved ones be treated worse?
Every time a hurricane hits, people in prison cannot be abandoned. Cities and counties across the country should better prepare for evacuating jails and prisons during extreme weather events. They should ensure that evacuations can be completed and that everyone inside of a county, state, or federal institution has adequate food, water, and medical supplies.
When people are locked up they lose more than their freedom: the right to vote, the ability to be connected with their loved ones regularly, free access to information, privacy, and more. Elected officials believe they can neglect the needs of prisoners during a natural disaster because people inside lack political power. Elected officials are not pressured to evacuate prisons because they do not see people inside as deserving of the same rights and dignity as the rest of us. Just because folks inside cannot vote for an elected individual does not mean elected officials can ignore them. They deserve the same rights as us.
We cannot forget about the most vulnerable among us during natural disasters. This is when they need us the most.