Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Galveston jail unprepared for Ike aftermath

When the Galveston Sheriff chose to make jail inmates and deputies ride out Hurricane Ike despite warnings to evacuate or face "certain death," the justification was that the jail was on high ground and built to withstand hurricane force winds.

That overlooked two important factors: First, the main risk was flooding; fortunately the worst of Ike barely missed Galveston, but here's the official pre-storm prediction of how a worst-case scenario would have engulfed the jail along with the rest of the island had it happened. (The blog Facing South has an update including post-storm pictures of the jail released yesterday by the Sheriff.)

Second, and this is the problem they're struggling with now - once the storm has passed the jail is stranded in a disaster area with no electricity, running water or working toilets, reported the Houston Chronicle:
"We've been trying to get some power hooked up inside the justice center," [jail architect Dudley] Anderson said. "There's a small one in there now, but they need power." ...

Anderson said the only generator in the jail this morning was supplying a small operator area. He had another generator ready to help a bit with air flow, but the large generators expected from the federal government are what he's frustrated about. ...

Anderson said that, without air circulating in the closed facility in this climate, mold and mildew can start growing everywhere. The lack of water and properly working toilet facilities exacerbates the problem, he said. ...

Anderson said that, despite his frustration, he has had cooperation from two fronts: the weather and the inmates.

He said some of the inmates helped him repair the small generator that works in the control area.

And, he said, without the good weather these past few days, the jail area would be in a far worse situation.

It's certainly good news that no one was hurt during the storm at the jail, but that still doesn't make leaving the inmates there a good idea and this story shows why. Just like after Hurricane Katrina, the devastating aftermath in Galveston will continue for quite a while after the storm surge has officially passed. Any idiot could have predicted there would be no electricity and a "lack of water and properly working toilet facilities" at the jail. (A local church is providing charity packages for jailers, but not for inmates.)

Galveston officials are complaining to the press that FEMA hasn't reacted quickly enough to bail them out of their bad decision, but FEMA didn't force the Sheriff to keep his jailers and inmates on the island contrary to evacuation warnings, particularly when his jail doen't have sufficient generators to keep the lights on or air circulation flowing.

Staying on the island wasn't a very wise choice on the Sheriff's part. As I wrote on Friday, many Galveston inmates were sitting in jail awaiting trial or for low-level offenses who could have been released if the county had planned ahead. The rest should have been moved, just like they did with TDCJ inmates and at other coastal jails. Although the threat from the storm has passed, Galveston Island remains essentially uninhabitable and everyone pretty much knew it would be that way at the time the Sheriff made the decision not to move the inmates.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sadly this was a bad decision. However after seeing and hearing about the conditions in the Austin shelters,The inmates appear to be better off then the evacuees. One cup of water, one peanut butter sandwich,no covers for the cots if you got one and no one to coordinate services. Looks as if decisions were bad in all areas of preparation. I lived through Andrew in Florida when it took a turn south and trapped us after being told to ride it out. There we were in Tents and food and services were available within 12 hours. Yes I lost all material things but I gained much respect for the government of the state. The plans were in place and they implemented it immediately. I ended up in Gainsville for shelter in a warehouse. There the social services and provisions were ready also for way more than arrived. I volunteered to return and do rescue and clean up. I will never forget how greatful people are just for a picture or a cross found and returned. May God bless everyone in the efforts of overcomeing Ike and maybe Austin will get serious about preplanning for disasters of all kinds and have a statewide plan in place. as for the Sherriff fire him. He indangered to many lives to be considered sane. From one who has been there and knows it is not wise to mess with Mother Nature. "angel c47"

Anonymous said...

Since Texas Jail Standards requires all jails to have generators that will work to ensure life safety functions are operable, is the jail now in a state of non-compliance? Where is the Texas Jail Standards Commission on this issue?

This is one of the problems with jail standards. The rules are "one fit all." This is one of many examples of why the standards should not be the same for all jails. Coastal facilities have different issues than inland facilities and vice versa.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I have a client who is being held in the Galveston County Jail and I am disgusted and appalled at the decisions made by Galveston County authorities in this matter. While my client may have broke the law, he did not commit a capital offense -- and being forced to stay in the GCJ during Ike was a potential death sentence.

JohnT said...

Thanks for the follow-up, Grits.

Yuma said...

The Galveston sheriff made a command decision. He also did not conduct a review of the potential advantages or risks in this decision. He did not prepare for proper care or the welfare of his department personnel nor his charges after the hurricane, depending on FEMA or other government agencies to provide the resources. Overall, the decision can be labeled political in nature, expecting to be called a hero when the likelihood of this decision may be an expected surge of civil lawsuits against the sheriff and the county. Especially if the accused incarcerated in the jail have their day in court and are found innocent instead of the sheriff's presummed "guilty until proven innocent" perception.

Anonymous said...

FEMA - Federal Empowerment of Moronic Activity.
Anyone that relies on the government to solve their problems, get just what they deserve, nothing but lip service and not the enjoyable kind.

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