EDITORIAL: When it rains, it pours all over inmates


Grace Senior

When it rains, it pours all over inmates

By Editorial Board

Hurricane Florence hit Carolina coasts Sept. 14, leaving thousands without power and 42 reported dead from storm-related injuries, according to a Sept. 20 CBS News article.

Officials warned citizens before the storm that if they didn’t evacuate before the hurricane hit that weekend, they could face serious consequences such as injuries or even death. According to a Sept. 13 Newsweek article, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said, “We’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not one.”

However, there seems to be one group of people he decided not to save—prison inmates. A prison in the mandatory evacuation zone was not evacuated, leaving thousands left behind and bracing for the worst of Hurricane Florence.

Dexter Lee, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, cited safety concerns for not evacuating inmates, according to a Sept. 14 New Yorker article.

However, according to the article, North Carolina and Virginia had been evacuating inmates from a couple prisons all week—transporting the inmates by bus to other facilities inland.

Leaving them behind while everyone else got the chance to relocate to safety is inhumane. With the storm bearing down, inmates from the MacDougall and Wateree corrections facilities filled 35,000 sandbags, according to South Carolina Departments of Correction’s Twitter account. They were used to protect roads and citizens along the coast.

According to a Sept. 14 Charlotte Observer article, three Virginia sheriffs are being sued for failing to move 2,500 inmates for the storm.

This isn’t the first time inmates have been forgotten during emergencies. According to the same Newsweek article, Texas inmates were trapped in cells during last years’ Hurricane Harvey. Contaminated water flooded cells as toilets and showers stopped working, one inmate described. During Hurricane Katrina, 600 prisoners were abandoned. Inmates on the ground floor of the prison had to stand in chest-deep water for four days before people came to rescue them.

No one deserves to be left behind during horrible conditions brought by Hurricane Florence. No one deserves to be trapped in a cell as water comes pouring in with zero supplies. Even if someone was given the death penalty, this is not how they should go. These inmates are being sentenced to death without a trial. It’s cruel and arguably a violation of their constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

To prevent this from happening in the future, prisons should evacuate inmates in advance. If for some reason a prison can’t evacuate, officers need to provide emergency procedures. Inmates should not be faced with fear of drowning in their own cell. Move them to other floors. It may be crowded, but at least everyone has the chance to survive. Provide water and food.

There should not be a discussion about whether certain people can evacuate. States need to make it their responsibility that when they order a mandatory evacuation, everyone will be able to evacuate. Laws should require proper treatment so there isn’t a discussion or debate.