On September 18 two South Carolina mental health patients, Windy Newton and Nicolette Green who were being transported between health facilities in the back of a sheriff’s van, drowned when the van was submerged in floodwaters. Both Horry County deputies who were transporting the women, escaped the van and were rescued from the top. The following day, the bodies of the women were removed from the van. Both women were being transported to McLeod Health Darlington. The deputies claimed they were unable to get the doors open.
The previous week, South Carolina prison officials had decided not to evacuate 650 people incarcerated at the Berkeley County MacDougall Correctional Facility or the 934 people incarcerated at the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. Both counties were under mandatory evacuation orders.
These are just the latest incidents in the nightmare prison authorities create for people who are incarcerated and faced with catastrophic storms. For example, in 2017, Hurricane Harvey left hundreds to thousands of people in facilities that had lost power, were inundated with sewage and floodwater, had no clean drinking water or food, or were otherwise uninhabitable. The National Lawyers Guild filed a lawsuit documenting these conditions. In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, approximately 6800 people were incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), many held behind locked doors, with no means of self-rescue as floodwaters and sewage rose around them, often without food or water. A year after the Hurricane, the county had still not accounted for 517 people who were missing from the list of people evacuated from the jail.
So many examples. So many city and county jails that “house” people who, in many cases haven’t even been tried or even arraigned, or who are serving sentences for everything from traffic tickets to small crimes. So many prisons who “house” our friends and family who, whatever their convictions, have done nothing to warrant the risk of death by drowning or structural collapse.
LAGAI, and UltraViolet, are prison abolitionists – we are not advocating for better prisons with more lifeboats. But so long as the government insists on caging people, there is no excuse for what the ACLU reported a year after the OPP actions during Katrina. “The picture that emerged from all of these accounts was one of widespread chaos, caused in large part by inadequate emergency planning and training by local officials, and of racially motivated hostility on the part of prison officials and blatant disregard for the individuals trapped in the jail. For many of the prisoners whose stories appear in this report, the nightmare continues to this day.”