No High Ground for New York’s Inmates
Posted on Aug 27, 2011
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday that the approximately 12,000 prisoners being held on low-lying Rikers Island will not be evacuated to escape Hurricane Irene.
The city took a number of extreme measures to protect its law-abiding residents: The massive public transit system was shut down at noon Saturday and some 250,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas. But seemingly little thought was put into what to do with the island of inmates and those who guard them, not just now in the face of Hurricane Irene, but for any given day. And while the storm is expected to lose steam by the time it hits land on Sunday, Bloomberg’s attitude toward jail inmates bears an eerie resemblance to the way inmates were abandoned in New Orleans in 2005 in the face of Hurricane Katrina. —BF
According to the New York City Department of Correction’s website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its 10 jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness—not to mention pretrial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.
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