Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TX Civil Rights Project Publishes Jail Stories from Hurricane Ike

On the anniversary of Hurricane Ike, the Texas Civil Rights Project yesterday released this 34-page report (pdf) on the staff and more than 1,000 inmates who remained in the Galveston County Jail throughout the storm despite a mandatory evacuation order. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

Despite a mandatory evacuation order for Galveston County, and despite the evacuation of all state prison facilities in the path of Ike, now-former Sheriff Gean Leonard failed to evacuate over one thousand men and women in custody at the jail. “The animal shelter down the street was evacuated, but they didn’t evacuate people at the jail,” said Leonard Rodriguez, who was incarcerated at the jail during the hurricane. “They knew it was going to be bad. The guards told us they were talking about writing our social security numbers and birth dates on our arms in permanent marker so that our bodies could be identified if the jail flooded and we drowned,” Rodriguez said.

“The Sheriff’s decision not to evacuate the jail was made without any regard for the conditions that the inmates would be forced to endure after the storm hit,” Lauren Izzo, TCRP prisoner’s rights attorney said. These people for weeks faced filthy, flooded, unsanitary conditions, lack of water, inadequate food, an inability to communicate with loved ones, and a lack of adequate medical treatment.

The stories told by the men and women who were at the jail reveal a shocking disregard for their basic human rights. “There was no water, and the toilets were overflowing onto the floors. We were given buckets to use as toilets and we only had one five gallon container of drinking water to share between 48 people,” said Ray Lazare, who was at the jail during the hurricane. “I saw one guy in my unit get dizzy and slip on the wet floor. He hit his head hard on a bed frame and lost consciousness. It took a long time for the guards to revive him, and all they did was give him a Band-Aid for the gash on his head and a peanut butter sandwich,” said Michael Shane Smith, also at the jail during the storm.

Denise Forteson was three and a half months pregnant when she was at the jail during the storm. Due to the lack of water, Forteson became severely dehydrated and when she developed a urinary tract infection, she couldn’t take antibiotics because they dehydrated her further. “I really thought that I was going to die,” said Forteson. “We all kept thinking about what happened to the prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina.”

“The county declared a mandatory evacuation, but didn’t even evacuate the one group of people actually in county custody,” said Izzo. “Now that hurricane season is once again upon us, it is imperative to ensure that this sort of human rights violation does not happen again.”

Bottom line, this was an incredibly dumb decision and both the Sheriff and those he left behind got lucky. If the Hurricane had hit the island with full force as predicted before the storm (instead it hit just a shade north), it would have utterly flooded the jail site. What's more, even having survived the storm, the Sheriff's department was needed for other purposes in the storm's aftermath but instead found themselves distracted and unprepared to care for 1,000 prisoners in a disaster zone.

I may post again on this topic once I have a chance to read the whole thing. For now, see coverage of the TCRP report from the Galveston County News and some contemporary Grits coverage:
UPDATE: See the Houston Chronicle's coverage of the TCRP report. MORE: From Facing South.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if anything, actions, etc has TX jail commission taken about this situation and any preventative meaures they have recommended to coastal counties in the event of future hurricanes?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nothing, to my knowledge. They gave their post hoc A-okay to the Sheriff's decision a few days after the hurricane. Maybe this report will encourage them to get on the stick.

Anonymous said...

The TX Comm on Jail standards iw as useless, impotent agency that is a waste of taxpayer money.

Karo said...

How many died in the jail because of the hurricane?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No one died, Karo, but that's arguably because the storm hit just north of the island. If pre-storm predictions had come true things would have gotten pretty grave.

The more serious problem in the actual event was that the Sheriff wasn't equipped to care for the prisoners afterward in a disaster zone with electricity out, skeleton staffing and a long list of disaster-related public safety duties.

Karo said...

I wonder if being scared that you'll drown in a hurricane has any impact on the recidivism rates for those jailed during the storm. Maybe those criminals will be more careful to avoid being sent to jail in the future.

Heck, if fear of drowning doesn't work wonders then why would Uncle Cheney be so high on waterboarding them Terrierists?

SB said...

There are others that are denied shelter during hurricanes. They are directed to report to jail and be locked in for the duration and their families are left to fend for themselves. It is a real humane system we have, huh?

Boyness said...

Troubling story but the bottom line will be Texans DONT CARE! If it doesn't directly affect "we the people", the "WE DONT CARE". Sad, but true.

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

The TX Comm on Jail standards iw as useless, impotent agency that is a waste of taxpayer money.

9/15/2009 02:12:00 PM
______________________________

A M E N!!!!!!

SB said...

IT WILL AFFECT "WE THE PEOPLE".WE ARE
LABELING OUR FUTURE VOLUNTEER MILITARY AS FELONS MAKING THEM EXEMPT. THE EDUCATION THIS CLASS OF PEOPLE USUALLY OBTAIN THROUGH THE MILITARY WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE. INSTEAD OF CARRYING THEIR OWN WEIGHT THROUGH LIFE WE WILL CARRY THEM.THAT USED TO BE THE CHANCE TO GROW UP.
ALSO, MANY OF OUR YOUNG MALES ARE KEPT LOCKED UP DURING THEIR REPRODUCTIVE YEARS. THERE WILL BE A HELL OF A GAP IN POPULATION. "WE THE PEOPLE" REALLY SHOULD THINK AHEAD.

scott said...

How can the state take anyone into custody considering the problems with juveniles, even in CPS? I'd rather a child endure an abusive parent, especially if that abuse is short of life threatening than for them to take that child and treat them the same or worse.

We can overcome adversity. We can see our parents were screwed up, neglectful what have you. But the severe effects that separating a child from their relatives and kin should be done in only the most extreme cases.

Similarly how can a gov't take custody of a man and be so neglectful. Many of our jails are unfit, yet that's our fate. Considering I have a warrant for not painting my house as quickly as I should've and lack the funds for an atty to post bond and get the dismissible charges dropped I could be thrown in a jail that is below standard for not painting my house.

I am a landscaper and last April I made $320 due to the economy where most years I'd expect to bring in $10K that month. I didn't have the money to paint my house, or hire someone. That strikes me as the height of irony.

I love being lectured by a judge about responsibility when they don't have the staff to process the tickets their recently expanded traffic patrol divisions write--to poor people for busted tail-lights, missing mudflaps and such.

I really wish you'd do a story on the expanded role of Dallas County Constables in traffic patrol. In the last 3-4 yrs they've been on the prowl in an unprecedented way.