Prisoners in Path of Hurricane Florence Face Dangerous Conditions Stuck in Correctional Facilities

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Florence blows toward the East Coast, and residents are fleeing from the storm's path to avoid danger.

However, the 150,000 prisoners in the Carolinas and Virginia cannot relocate at will, and authorities have chosen not to move them. Those ordered to remain in Florence's path could face perilous conditions, including flooding and shortages of vital supplies.

South Carolina has faced scrutiny for not evacuating inmates despite Governor Henry McMaster's statement on Tuesday that "we're not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one."

The MacDougall Correction Institution, located in a mandatory evacuation zone, had indicated that corrections officers and 650 inmates would remain at the facility, according to the state.

"Previously, it's been safer to stay in place with the inmates rather than move to another location," South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Dexter Lee told Vice News.

Hurricane Florence travels west in the Atlantic Ocean on September 13. Inmates are being kept in facilities that could be hit by Florence. NOAA via Getty Images

Some coastal jails in Virginia were also keeping inmates in the hurricane's path. Sheriff's offices told The Virginian-Pilot that the Chesapeake City Jail, Norfolk City Jail and Portsmouth City Jail—which are located in evacuation areas—would not be relocating prisoners.

The Norfolk Sheriff's Office requested a two-week supply of food and medicine for the city jail. The Indian Creek Correctional Center, which is not in an evacuation area, transferred about 1,000 people to another detention center farther inland to avoid possible flooding.

North Carolina said earlier this week that it was evacuating fewer than 10 of the state's 55 prisons, according to The New York Times. Department of Public Safety Communications Officer Jerry Higgins told Newsweek that only one prison was still being evacuated but would not say which facilities were being cleared.

Experts said that keeping inmates in the storm's path posed an unnecessary danger and noted the contradiction between the governments' statements and policy.

"Governor McMaster's statement is deeply telling. As the decision to keep prisoners locked in, at serious risk of being drowned, during one of the potentially largest storms in years make clear, not all American lives are valued equally," University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson told Newsweek.

"Despite the fact that juries did not sentence these men and women to death sentences, by leaving them trapped in cells during hurricanes does just that. The decision whether to move prisoners to higher ground in these natural disaster moments should never be left to individuals—elected officials or corrections officials. This is a question of basic human rights and it should be decided firmly by law and policy with no individual discretion."

During last year's Hurricane Harvey, Texas inmates were reportedly trapped in their facilities as food, water and medical supplies dwindled. Prisoners detailed cells flooded with feces-contaminated water and an inability to use toilets or showers. Government officials denied these conditions existed.

An inmate who attempted to publicize confinement conditions at United States Penitentiary, Beaumont, faced retaliation, The Nation reported.

Inmates have been left in dangerous conditions during previous storms because they were not evacuated. During Hurricane Katrina, 600 prisoners were abandoned in Louisiana's Orleans Parish Prison compound, according to Human Rights Watch. Inmates on the ground floor were evacuated four days after chest-level floodwater filled their cells.