As many as 370,000 people have been ordered to evacuate low-lying areas of New York City, But if you belong to one segment of New York’s population you will be staying put, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s instructions.
Bloomberg has been frequently echoing his call for people to get away from Hurricane Irene’s path as soon as possible. But if you find yourself among the 12,000 incarcerated inmates at Riker’s Island, you’ll be waiting the storm out, despite the fact its 400 acres are built on landfill. Bloomberg announced in a press conference that the facility, which sits in the East River between Queens and the Bronx and nearby LaGuardia Airport, would not be evacuated.
According to the website Solitary Watch, the city-run jail includes not just convicted male and female criminals, but juveniles, the mentally ill and and 3,000 detainees that awaiting or on trial.
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Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation for areas designated Zone A because flooding, erosion and other damage is considered highly probably if not imminent. Although the city never clearly stated Rikers fell into that Zone. The New York Department of Corrections did not return calls placed by Solitary Watch, which monitors U.S. prison conditions, so there’s no news on what their contingency plan would be if the island is adversely affected by Hurricane Irene.
But in recent memory, another city jail hit by a hurricane provides precedent of what can happen when inmates are not evacuated. In 2005, New Orleans authorities decided prisoners at Orleans Parish Prison should remain “where they belong,” according to an American Civil Liberties Union report.
That turned out to be a really poor decision on the part of the Orleans Parish Sheriff because that jail flooded, guards deserted their posts and inmates went days without food, water or adequate sanitation. It was finally evacuated after several days by state order, but not before prisoners and some guards found themselves isolated without any way to get help in the dire situation.
According to a New York Times blog, New York Corrections department officials do not have a definite evacuation plan for the jail, but smaller-scale evacuation plans from facility to facility do exist.
CORRECTION APPENDED: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Rikers Island was located in Zone “A.” In actuality, officials never stated the jail was designated in any particular zone.