New York’s main prison-complex, Rikers Island did not implement a comprehensive Sandy-specific evacuation plan. The New York City Correction Department released a hurricane update indicating Rikers Island sits at an elevation high enough to withstand a category four hurricane. On the NYC Evacuation Zone map, however, Rikers Island is the nexus of Zones B and C, which represent potential flooding from 2+ and 3 to 4 category hurricanes. The issue to spotlights first safety and evacuation, and second, New York City officials’ neglect.
Rikers Island houses ten jails containing 12 to 17 thousand people, over four percent of the New York City population. The 2012 New York City Evacuation Zone map does not include Rikers Island, nor does it label the island on the map. The 400-acre island between Queens and the Bronx, is constructed atop a landfill, causing heightened susceptibility to inclement weather conditions.
During a press conference this morning,Mayor Micheal Bloomberg said “Rikers Island is up where they are and the jails are secured,” and “don’t worry, nobody’s getting out.” Bloomberg is correct; the only infrastructure is one bridge connecting the island to Queens. Deputy Commissioner Matthew Nerzig echoes Bloomberg in his statement that Rikers Island evacuation is not an issue. New York officials reaction to Sandy further segregates Rikers Island, by neglecting the safety of the prisoners, correctional officers and other staff in the wake of Sandy’s wrath, while implying New York City should not worry about prisoners escaping.
If Rikers Island is bruised by Sandy’s damage or flooding, expectations for prisoner’s inhumane conditions can be modeled after the prisons in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. In the event Rikers Island goes unharmed by Sandy, the ideological underpinnings which neglect prison-complex evacuation, reinforce racist and classist ideologies, and perpetuate a culture of neglect. While safety and evacuation is the pressing issue today, the ideological issue will continue after Sandy subsides.