By Alfred King, Journalism Guild Writer
Prisoners are often endangered when natural climatic change disasters such as floods, storms, hurricanes or extreme temperatures occur, The New Republic reports.
Prisoners are “literally on the front lines” of climate change problems, the story said.
This includes families fleeing climate change in the Latin America, who are detained and separated into immigrant detention facilities, the story said. It also includes Black, Brown and poor White prisoners held in toxic prisons, said Jay Ware, organizer and prison abolitionist.
“Every single day is a climate, weather and environmental related disaster for people in prisons,” a member-organizer of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, told the magazine. The source requested anonymity.
Inmates routinely labor in sweltering fields in Texas, fight wildfires in California for pennies or are trapped in the path of hurricanes when prison officials refused to evacuate them, the Sept. 18 story said.
The Sabin Center on Climate Change at Columbia University issued a report in 2015 saying, “Rising temperatures and increasingly harsh extreme-heat events will jeopardize the health of inmates and correctional officers alike and will stress the physical plant of the correctional sector.”
Thousands of U.S. prisoners are housed in areas where the temperatures exceed 100 degrees but have no air-conditioning, the story noted.
In Texas where temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees, only 30 of 109 prisons have air-conditioning. Twenty-two people died over the past 14 years in Texas as a result of extreme heat, the story said.
Cold also presents problems. Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center left prisoners without heat or light in February 2019 for about a week, according to the article.
Visitors to the facility which included New York representatives and city officials, called it a dark, cold, miserable place. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “a violation of human decency and dignity,” reported The New Republic.
The story reported these documented cases of how climatic disasters negatively impact prisoners:
–Prisoners were left in waist high water during Hurricane Katrina.
–During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Texas left 3,000 prisoners without food or water for days.
–Prisoners in the evacuation zone on Florida’s coast in 2018 were left to fend for themselves when Hurricane Michael hit.
–In South Carolina during Hurricane Florence, the state declined to evacuate 1,000 inmates, and two mentally ill women inmates drowned when their prison transport was swept away by the storm.
Even when inmates survive a storm, the aftermath can be deadly; diseases like cholera, E Coli, dysentery, spread through the prison environment, the article stated.