“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. 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 more than 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.
According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime.
Didn’t this happen in Katrina? Not surprising. I am interested in seeing prisons considered part of the system of environmental racism, and this is a pretty clear example. What people are worthy of control of their lives » where their bodies are » what land they live on » whether their body is knowingly put or left in harm’s way. The people who build and make money off these cages are the same people building and making money off natural disasters.
And if people die or are hurt in the prisons, will we call it a natural disaster, if the mayor is knowingly putting them there, leaving them there, and doing it with enough advance notice to talk about it at a press conference beforehand?
BTW there is also an immigration detention center on Rikers, to complicate it even more.
This is awful! I had never even thought about prisoners and jails in high-risk weather zones! Yet another privilege I didn’t know I had. What about those who work at the jails? Are they allowed to evacuate? This is just heartbreaking.