As strained local governments struggle to care for their citizens during disasters and evacuations, prisoners are often low on the list of priorities. That means it’s likely that any big hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast will result in a slew of human rights abuses, both reported and unreported, at Southern prisons.
Back in 2005, when Katrina hit New Orleans, prison guards abandoned prisoners in locked cells as the floodwaters rose chest-high. Several thousand of those inmates were eventually rescued, but then miserably housed on a broken piece of interstate, directly exposed to the Southern summer sun.
But it’s unclear whether prisons learned much from Katrina.
Harvey touched down as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, August 25. The next day, as floodwaters rose, the state began evacuating some 7,000 prisoners, addicts in treatment, and people in halfway houses—but thousands of other Texas prisoners remained behind, and some lacked adequate food, water, or bathrooms, say their families.
Rachel Vergara’s husband remained in the Beaumont’s medium-security federal prison, which did not evacuate. When her husband began sending her SOS emails from inside the prison, she started a Facebook page in hopes of attracting family members of other prisoners around Houston. The wives she met online began forwarding her their husbands’ emails from the week after Harvey, with plenty of worrying details. (I am not publishing the inmates’ names to protect their identities.)
Beaumont’s water system was damaged, resulting in backed-up prison toilets and undrinkable tap water. Inmates were given two bottles of drinking water a day, according to one email, and some went more than ten days without a shower. Occupied cells definitely flooded, according to another. “Prisoners are defecating in trash bags to prevent the excruciating smell of their own human feces,” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article at Vice.