South Carolina officials faced criticism after they refused to evacuate inmates from prisons in areas of the state being affected by Hurricane Florence. More than 1,500 prisoners at the MacDougall and Ridgeland correctional institutions in Dorchester and Jasper counties are waiting out the storm in their cells.
Dorchester is a mandatory evacuation zone, but a spokesperson for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says the governor felt it was safer to keep the inmates in the prisons rather than move them. This decision has drawn criticism from prison advocates such as Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center.
“In general, prison systems and [South Carolina] in particular and [Lousiana] and others view prisoners as an expendable population and don’t take the safety of them seriously or put a lot of stock in them,” Wright said. “These are more systemic issues in terms of how the prisons and jails view the prisoners in their care.”
Officials in North Carolina evacuated more than 3,000 inmates incarcerated in prisons in hurricane evacuation zones early this week (Monday through Wednesday). Jerry Higgins, the state’s public safety spokesman says they moved inmates from six of their smaller correctional institutions and one drug treatment center for prisoners.
“Moving them inland to larger facilities that have less chance of being affected by adverse weather conditions was one of our priorities,” Higgins said. “Safety for staff and offenders was our number one and we felt it was imperative to move these folks out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.”
Higgins says they had no problems moving the prisoners to other facilities and that all of them will get one free phone call so their family members will know where they are now located. He says the inmates will not be moved back until all of the prisons have been inspected after the storm by safety, security and maintenance teams.