Common Cause Urges South Carolina to Evacuate Prison Inmates in Path of Hurricane Florence

Common Cause urges you to begin the immediate evacuation of all incarcerated individuals under your care that are in Hurricane Florence evacuation zones.

Letter to Government Officials

Bryan P. Stirling
Director
South Carolina Department of Corrections
4444 Broad River Road
Columbia, SC 29210

Dear Bryan P. Stirling:

Common Cause, on behalf of our 1.2 million members and supporters, urge you to begin the immediate evacuation of all incarcerated individuals under your care that are in Hurricane Florence evacuation zones. If your decision to not evacuate stands, you will be putting hundreds of incarcerated people at extreme risk when Hurricane Florence makes landfall in the coming hours. The safety of these individuals is your primary responsibility and we urge you to evacuate these inmates immediately.

Your decision to not evacuate is an extreme abuse of your power, violates the basic human rights of incarcerated individuals to be treated with respect and dignity and may violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

On Saturday, September 8, Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency as a result of Hurricane Florence. Governor McMaster called for an immediate evacuation of all individual’s located in designated evacuation zones. Al Cannon Detention Center, MacDougall Correctional Facility, and Ridgeland Correctional Institution are within those zones. It is your duty to honor and follow through on the Governor’s calls for evacuation, as well as offer a safe and secure location for all individuals incarcerated, where their basic human needs can be met sufficiently.

We have precedent to believe that there is a great risk in not evacuating those incarcerated in the above-named facilities. When Hurricane Matthew struck South Carolina in 2016, an individual died during the storm at Ridgeland Correctional Institution. This was an egregious loss of human life, and it is something that cannot be repeated with Hurricane Florence. The tragedy during Hurricane Matthew was not the first time that the human rights of incarcerated individuals were neglected during a hurricane. When Hurricane Katrina struck The Gulf Coast in 2005, thousands of incarcerated men, women, and children, were neglected and suffered conditions including not having 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.

Incarcerated individuals in the state of South Carolina recently participated in a nationwide prison strike. This was in response to the prison riot that broke out at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, where seven people lost their lives. The strike was calling for, among other things, improvement to the horrific conditions that people in prison face every day.

The constitutional duty before you now, as agency director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, is to order the immediate evacuation of all persons incarcerated who are in evacuation zones in South Carolina. There isn’t much time. There are lives at risk and ignoring these individuals would be a direct violation to human rights and a repeat of past national tragedies.

Sincerely,

Karen Hobert Flynn
President
Common Cause