Failure to Relocate People in Prison in Florence’s Path is an Abuse of Power
As Hurricane Florence inches closer and closer to the east coast, government officials in the areas call for an immediate evacuation, but some are not upholding their own ethical responsibility by evacuating thousands of people in jails and prisons in the region.
While Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has warned that “Hurricane Florence has the potential to cause catastrophic flooding” and encouraged “everyone in Virginia to prepare now, several correctional facilities and city jails in Virginia have not been evacuated. Additionally, at least three prisons in South Carolina remain unevacuated. All of these facilities are well within the evacuation zones, and yet they are being neglected and left to weather the storm on their own, with no guarantee of their safety.
This is not only an abuse of power and neglect of our government officials of their duties, and but also a direct violation of the human rights of people in prison. Common Cause sent letters to government officials, alerted media, and mobilized our members and supporters to contact, both the South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling and the Sheriffs of the three city jails that are refusing to evacuate the incarcerated people under their care. We directed nearly 100 calls, making a strong statement that people in prison deserve respect and dignity and government officials must carry out their duty to care for those they incarcerate.
This isn’t the first time that people in prison have been neglected during a hurricane. The most egregious example is Hurricane Katrina. When Hurricane Katrina struck The Gulf Coast in 2005, thousands of incarcerated men, women, and children, were neglected and suffered conditions without access to food or water, standing in sewage infested water (some reaching chest levels), and being forced to suffer in complete darkness. Prison guards left their posts, and those who were forced to stay were commanded to shoot people who tried to escape. Many individuals suffered death or injury.
Government officials should evacuate all people in prison who are within the evacuation zones to a safe a secure location. A location where their basic human needs can be met sufficiently. Leaders of correctional facilities have a constitutional duty to protect these individuals. They deserve the same respect and dignity as all others who are within the evacuation zones. As the storm is quickly and violently approaching the coast and beyond, there isn’t much time left. These are lives at risk and continuing to ignore these individuals will be a direct violation of human rights, and a repeat of past national tragedies.