South Carolina Won’t Evacuate Prisoners Ahead of Hurricane Florence

September 12, 2018, 5:19 PM UTC

More than 1 million people in mid-Atlantic states have evacuated as coastal counties gear up for Hurricane Florence, the category 4 hurricane expected to make landfall on Friday with heavy rains and potentially deadly wind. The National Hurricane Center warned on Wednesday morning of a “life-threatening storm surge.”

South Carolina officials on Tuesday ordered residents to evacuate, with Gov. Henry McMaster telling residents at a news conference, “We are not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.”

But at least 650 inmates at the MacDougall Correctional Facility — a Level 2 medium-security prison for men — will not be relocated, VICE News reported. The prison is located in Berkeley county, one of five counties under a mandatory evacuation from the governor. The state has also decided not to evacuate the nearly 1,000 inmates from the Ridgeland Correctional Institution in Jasper County, The State reported.

“We’re monitoring the situation. Previously, it’s been safer to stay in place with the inmates rather than move to another location,” South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesperson Dexter Lee told VICE. The South Carolina Department of Corrections hasn’t issued evacuation orders for any of its facilities since 1999 during Hurricane Floyd, according to the Post and Courier.

Prisoner rights activists are organizing “phone zaps,” and encouraging people to call the Department of Corrections and other prison administrators to pressure them into evacuating prisoners. The decision not to evacuate prisoners came as the two-week National Prison Strike reached its official end on September 9.

“The concern here on the outside is that the people who work on evacuation procedures often care the least about prisoners, and analyze moving prisoners to safety as a ‘risk’ that has to be managed, rather than just viewing the prisoners as human beings that the state is responsible for,” Jared Ware, a freelance writer and member of the National Prison Strike Media Relations team told Fortune.

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates said in a Facebook post that in preparation for Hurricane Florence, “Prisoners are getting the word to fill up anything with water.”

Activists are also concerned that states will use unpaid prison labor to clean up after the hurricane. After Hurricane Irma hit Florida last year, inmate work crews were tasked with the cleanup and weren’t paid for their labor, the Miami New Times reported.

Prisoners in South Carolina are not paid for their regular labor, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. “You have this contradiction where prisoners are treated as subhumans, not included in the ‘leave no man/woman behind’ rhetoric that these politicians use,” Ware added. “But then [they’re] asked to do some of the most dangerous labor without pay. It accentuates the very reasons why prisoners have been striking these past few weeks.”