If a major disaster hits, will people in prison be screwed?
A life-threatening disaster looms ominously over you, your friends, family, and community. As you pack up your essentials, and bug out or head into a shelter, what happens to those who are locked up in your local prisons?
Most prisons roll out disaster management plans, but what happens when they fail? Let's take at the impact of disasters in New Orleans and Haiti, how a breakdown of contingency plans led to tragic outcomes — and what might happen in the most extreme disaster scenarios.
Prison Disaster Plan Failures
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish Prison held over 8,000 prisoners, with a large number of the prisoners incarcerated pre-trial, not yet convicted of any crime.
After the evacuation of the city, generators ran and guards stood post in the early days following Hurricane Katrina, but as guards evacuated, the prison population found itself locked in their cells, wading in chest high in sewage contaminated flood water.
In the face of Hurricane Irene, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to evacuate Rikers Island, home to over 12,000 inmates, including juvenile detainees and prisoners with severe mental illnesses. The New York Times later revealed that no evacuation contingency plan exists for Rikers Island.
Prison disaster management plans are now in place in most cases, with of lower threat, nonviolent inmates to assist guard. In the state of California, inmates with a non-violent background and a lack of sexual offenses are often trained to assist in battling fires, both inside of the prison and in communities should a wildfire occur. New Zealand officials are fighting for the right to include inmates as part of a disaster safety initiative as well.
If a society shattering disaster occurred, either natural or man-made, would the prisoners ever be voluntarily released? And if prisoners are released, do the powers that be release lower level prisoners first, then move down the line? Do you release inmates with a history with violent crimes, or those who are sentenced to die?
No official statements from U.S. officials exist concerning a policy leading to the release of inmates in the wake of a large scale crisis. A historical precedent exists for not releasing prisoners, even in the face of impending death. In 1931, officials at the Ohio State Penitentiary refused to release or move inmates during a prison fire, leading to the deaths of over 300 inmates.
Continued: If a major disaster hits, will people in prison be screwed?
Black Blade: I think in a SHTF scenario that prisoners are royally screwed.