Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Rikers Island and Irene

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A flurry of concern on Twitter yesterday & today about Bloomberg’s announcement that Rikers Island would not be evacuated as Hurricane Irene headed towards NYC. [Full story after the jump.]

It began with an offhand response by Mayor Bloomberg to a reporter’s question at a news conference:

Bloomberg: Not evacuating Rikers Island. Others can begin evacuating right now, must be out by 5 p.m. 2moro. Don’t wait till last minute.
amNewYork
August 26, 2011
Yesterday & today, many on Twitter have expressed anger about the city’s seemingly callous disregard for the 12,000 detainees on Rikers Island (using varying levels of profanity).
Rikers Island sits on water but yet you aren’t concerned with evacuating not one person. Where is the humanity? smh #2012Yall
theonlyemanny
August 26, 2011
“@LilianaSegura: Oh wow. Wow. RT @amNewYork Bloomberg: Not evacuating Rikers Island.” what the fuck is this horseshit
umuad
August 26, 2011
There are 12,000 prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island — and no evacuation plan « Solitary Watch http://solitarywatch.com/2011/08/26/locked-up-and-left-behind-new-yorks-prisoners-and-hurricane-irene/
solitarywatch
August 26, 2011

And who forget the awful results of the failure to evacuate the city jail in New Orleans in advance of Katrina?

Abandoned and Abused

In a comprehensive report from our National Prison Project, the ACLU documents the terrible conditions and dangerous lack of planning at the Orleans Parish Prison during and after Hurricane Katrina. This report focuses on the experience of thousands of individuals trapped in the prison during and after the storm, and recounts the nightmare many of them later faced at various receiving facilities around Louisiana.

Others did some research and observed that Rikers looks to be above expected flooding levels.

We’re getting tons of feedback on the non-evac of Rikers. But according to the city’s map, it’s not in danger: http://on.nyc.gov/ngrXxW
amNewYork
August 26, 2011
FEMA map shows 500-year flood line just barely inching around Rikers (20 feet above sea), so should be OK. @LilianaSegura @JeffSharlet
alykatzz
August 26, 2011
Actually, much of Riker’s island–home to NYC’s jails–is well above sea-level: http://bit.ly/q8sdmb (credit: http://bit.ly/pNuUvd )
ericuman
August 27, 2011

More concerning, though, was the revelation that New York doesn’t seem to have any contingency plan for how it would evacuate Rikers if it *did* need to. Solitary Watch quoted a New York Times report that “no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists.”

Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York”s Rikers Island

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas.
What if there were a stronger hurricane, or a terrorist attack, or some other emergency that did require evacuation of Rikers? Surely the city should have a set of plans in place. Plus, as @LilianaSegura pointed out, it’s not just Rikers:
The Metropolitan jail in lower Manhattan is located a block outside the evacuation zone. Any plan for them @MikeBloomberg? #Irene
LilianaSegura
August 27, 2011

In response to the usual Internet riffraff making inhumane comments like “let them drown,” there were two responses. First, those at Rikers are mainly pretrial detainees, low-level convicts, and juveniles (this is not a state prison, so it doesn’t hold prisoners serving long, post-conviction sentences). @JessieNYC and some of her interlocutors explained how zero-tolerance school policies and the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policing strategy disproportionately funnel black and Latino youth into Rikers, as well as people who are poor. Here are some of those Tweets:

Most people locked up at Rikers Island are there because they cannot afford the $100-$300 bail. Most on non-violent charges.
JessieNYC
August 27, 2011
Re: poor, non-violent ‘offenders’ at Rikers – this includes about 2,000 adolescents, in the system due to racist “Stop and Frisk” policies
JessieNYC
August 27, 2011
If you prefer a graphic to illustrate racial disparity in marijuana arrests, check this: http://bit.ly/quzL8R
JessieNYC
August 27, 2011
Also, schools with zero tolerance policies have also sent a lot of young folks to jails like Rikers Island. #SchooltoPrisonPipeline
MotherJustice
August 27, 2011
Rikers Island is a jail but also (by default) America’s largest psychiatric facility, at least as of a few years ago: http://bit.ly/rhDAZA
prisonlawblog
August 26, 2011

Second, as @LilianaSegura pointed out, even if everyone at Rikers *were* a convicted murderer the city still has a responsibility to take care of those in its custody. Indeed, constitutional and international law require prison and jail administrators to demonstrate a certain level of concern for prisoners’ safety.

Right to point out that many in local jails are still awaiting trial. But the guilty, too, should to be treated with humanity #Irene #Rikers
LilianaSegura
August 27, 2011
Center for Constitutional Rights issues statement on lack of evacuation plan for Rikers Island: http://fb.me/1hgchSudj
solitarywatch
August 27, 2011
Irene: Why failing to evacuate inmates violates UN human rights rules http://bit.ly/o7QjUp #rikers @nytimes @gothamist @nymag @propublica
facingsouth
August 27, 2011

Underlying the discussion, the real issue became not so much whether Rikers should have been evacuated today — the city’s decision may well be sound — but the broader issues raised by the conversation about how we talk about, treat, and care for *everyone* in our communities.

So, to just say, “we have no plan” for those at Rikers is to say “we don’t care about all New Yorkers”
JessieNYC
August 27, 2011
Bloomberg’s impatience toward the reporter who asked about Rikers ISLAND shows callous disregard for prisoners’ lives, regardless of zone.
LilianaSegura
August 26, 2011

Another issue raised by the discussion is the state of emergency preparedness among our nation’s prisons and jails. This is both a technocratic, good governance issue and inseparable from the broader human rights issues at stake. I tweeted a few links to research and best practices.

concern is that NYC says it d/n have an evac contingency plan at all. MT @ericuman: Actually, Riker’s above sea-level: http://bit.ly/q8sdmb
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
decision not to evac in this instance may/may not be sound, but if you confine 12K humans, you need a disaster plan. shouldn’t be ad hoc.
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
“it is unconscionable for prisons to have nonexistent or inadequate [emergency] plans” – law prof Ira Robbins: bit.ly/rrktyW
prisonlawblog
August 26, 2011
also, focus on Rikers itself may be red herring. point is: how many other jails up & down coast, around country are unprepared for disaster?
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
article on prison/jail emergency preparation. Nebraska leads nation, state DOC has full-time emergency prep staffer: http://bit.ly/o8tCnK
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
Nebraska plan designates which institutions can receive how many & what type prisoners if needed, requires 30 day food stockpile, etc.
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
the US DOJ & consulting firm LETRA have published a 300+ page guide to prison emergencies & best practices: http://bit.ly/ptQ8GX
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
that last PDF has a “self-audit checklist” prison/jail heads can use to evaluate whether their institution’s plans are adequate.
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
@prisonlawblog just an fyi on Emergency plans.all the training is free by FEMA all they have to do is sign up and attend. simple prep u do
carltoersbijns
August 27, 2011
Luckily, not every coastal corrections facility was unprepared:
North Carolina evacuated over 1,000 inmates in advance of Irene: http://bit.ly/qUvWaI v @facingsouth cc @solitarywatch
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011
Hopefully Irene will be a wake-up call to prison and jail administrators nationwide to audit their institution’s emergency plans, and take advantage of the wealth of training and educational resources that are out there. When asked by reporters about a local jail or prison in the midst of a natural disaster, government officials should be able to confidently, calmly, and truthfully say, “We have comprehensive emergency contingency plans in place and officials are implementing them as we speak.” And alternatively:
if NYC lacks capacity to do disaster planning for 12K captive ppl, should evaluate whether NYPD is arresting/detaining too many.
prisonlawblog
August 27, 2011

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