South Carolina will not be evacuating Ridgeland Correctional Institution, even though it’s in an area that could be hit by Hurricane Florence, the newspaper The State reports.
The prison, home to almost 1,000 prisoners and up to 119 staff, was ordered to stay put even during an initial mandatory evacuation for surrounding Jasper County. That order has since been lifted as forecasts have refined. State officials have said the inmates are safer in the prison than they would be in an evacuation.
Nearly 1,000 people incarcerated in South Carolina—and the staff who guard them—will not be evacuated for #HurricaneFlorence, despite Gov. Henry McMaster’s evacuation orders. It is unacceptable for a state to gamble with the lives of those in its care. https://t.co/bdLJAM7kR6
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) September 11, 2018
By contrast, North Carolina has said it is evacuating hundreds of prisoners from prisons and county jails before the storm, the Charlotte Observer reports. Officials didn’t reveal exactly which institutions would be evacuated due to security concerns, but said evacuated prisoners would get a free phone call to notify loved ones. In Virginia, officials have evacuated one state prison, though local jails in the affected area are planning to keep inmates in place after stockpiling food and fuel, the Virginian-Pilot reports.
Evacuating institutionalized people ahead of a storm is always a challenge, but failing to do so can prove deadly. Prisoners were kept at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina despite a mandatory citywide evacuation, and many faced grueling conditions as the prison flooded with filthy water while food and water proved scarce or nonexistent. After the storm, the criminal justice system in the city was effectively shut down for months. Even once the prison was evacuated, many of its inmates spent months behind bars for minor crimes and traffic offenses while waiting for courts to reopen and hear their cases.
And during last year’s Hurricane Irma, officials said 12 people died in Florida’s Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after temperatures in the nursing home rose to 99 degrees.