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Updated: Inmates and C.O.’s at Rikers Island Won’t Be Evacuated Ahead of Irene

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway report in Mother Jones that New York City has no plans to evacuate an estimated 12,000 inmates and their correctional officers on low-lying Rikers Island ahead of Hurricane Irene:

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference Friday. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

What ever happened to the concept of custody? These prisoners are under the control of New York City, their safety is the city’s responsibility.

Mayor Bloomberg owes us an explanation. Why has the city preemptively ruled out evacuation for Rikers when geographically and topographically similar islands are being evacuated?

Now, I can see why the city might want to adopt a wait-and-see approach to evacuating Rikers. Maybe the storm won’t be that bad after all, and relocating 12,000 prisoners would be lot more complicated and expensive than simply telling the residents of Battery Park City to find somewhere else to stay. But the city has a moral and legal obligation to act if the inmates at Rikers are in danger.

So, Mayor Bloomberg, what is the plan for getting the inmates and COs off the island if worse comes to worst? There’d better be one.

Update, 7:10pm: I got this tweet from the feed of New York Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson (@howiewolf):

Rikers facility is not in evac Zone A (based on topography), staff remaining there + not all islands in NYC are being evacuated

I tweeted back to ask what zone Rikers is in, topographically. I haven’t gotten a response yet. (A friend of mine who used to work at Rikers estimates that it’s Zone B.)

According to a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Department of Corrections has confirmed that there isn’t even a hypothetical plan to evacuate the inmates.  

I asked CCR spokesperson Jen Nessel what she thought of Wolfson’s statements. She wrote in an email:

The maps I’ve seen all leave Rikers off the Zone scale, but even if it isn’t in Zone A where the mandatory evacuations are taking place, the fact that the Department of Corrections admitted there wasn’t even a hypothetical plan for 12,000 people who can’t exactly evacuate themselves if the situation worsens is disturbing.

[Photo credit: Satanslaundromat, Creative Commons.]

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