Blog of Rights

Rikers Island Spared by Irene, But What About Next Time?

By Rebecca McCray, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project at 11:57am

Last month, I wrote about the invisibility of Rikers Island on some of New York City's subway maps. Unfortunately, this weekend Hurricane Irene taught us that it's not just a map on a train that fails to acknowledge the thousands of people on the Island.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that, despite the impressive array of hurricane evacuations and preparatory plans implemented to protect New Yorkers in other low-lying areas, Rikers Island would not be evacuated. Luckily for all of us, Irene's sweep through New York was much less disastrous than anticipated. Rikers Island was spared, but we learned something disturbing: the Department of Corrections does not have a large scale evacuation plan in place for the 12,000-plus prisoners of Rikers. Understandably, this revelation caused a flurry of backlash from concerned advocates.

It may seem extreme to plan for such an emergency, but after experiencing an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, isn't it safe to say that we should be prepared for anything? New York City need not replicate the horror stories of those abandoned at Orleans Parish Prison after Hurricane Katrina.

Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Corrections should take responsibility for the more than 12,000 lives at stake on Rikers Island. It is the city's duty to be prepared for the worst, protecting all its citizens in the event of a disaster — including those that live behind bars.

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