UPDATE, October 30, 12 noon: Solitary Watch has received the following statement via email from NYC DOC Deputy Commissioner Matthew Nerzig: “No power outages on Rikers last night. No significant flooding or disruption of our operations. The Commissioner [DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro] spent the night there.”
Solitary Watch would also appreciate hearing from families whose loved ones (prisoners or staff) weathered the storm on Rikers and can provide accounts of their experiences: firstname.lastname@example.org.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
At a press conference this afternoon on New York City’s preparations for Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about the safety of prisoners on Rikers Island, which lies near the mouth of Long Island Sound, between Queens and the Bronx. Bloomberg appeared annoyed by the question, and responded somewhat opaquely: “Rikers Island, the land is up where they are and jails are secured.” Apparently unable to fathom that anyone’s main concern would be for the welfare of the more than 12,000 prisoners on Rikers, Bloomberg then reassured listeners: “Don’t worry about anybody getting out.”
The last time a major hurricane was headed for New York–Irene, in August of 2011–Bloomberg gave a similarly terse response to a question about the island jail. ”We are not evacuating Rikers,” he declared even as other shoreline communities and City Island were cleared of residents. With little information forthcoming from the New York City Department of Corrections and Rikers left blank on the city’s Evacuation Zone maps, prisoners’ loved ones “were in a panic,” says Lisa Ortega, whose 16-year-old son was being held on Rikers at the time. A story originating on Solitary Watch, “Locked Up and Left Behind,” went viral, and thousands of readers expressed concern or outrage.
This time, the Department of Corrections (if not the Mayor) appears better prepared for inquiries about the status of Rikers in a hurricane. By Saturday, it had proactively posted a notice on its website stating:
Given its elevation, Rikers Island can withstand any storm up to and including a Category 4 hurricane. Rikers Island facilities are NOT in low-lying areas, and therefore like nearby small islands Roosevelt Island and City Island, is not seriously threatened by severe flooding.
The personal safety of New York City Department of Correction (NYCDOC) staff and the inmate population is clearly our top priority and in the highly unlikely event that an evacuation would become necessary, it would occur. The NYCDOC response to an unprecedented disaster of this magnitude would be integrated of course, into a city or region-wide strategy. The City has carefully reviewed Rikers Island, as it has done with the entire city, and no section of Rikers Island facilities are located in Hurricane Evacuation Zone A.
Be assured that NYCDOC staff will remain on Rikers Island and the facility is a fully self-sustaining entity, prepared to operate and care for inmates in an emergency if such an emergency develops.