As Millions Evacuate, Incarcerated People in Ian’s Path Are Left Behind

Millions of Florida residents were forced to evacuate due to Hurricane Ian. However, advocates demanded that authorities also evacuate 176,000 people currently held in prisons, jails, and immigrant detention centres. Many are without power and water due to the storm. “We’re worried about the conditions in the days and weeks following, with no AC, lack of sanitation and water, lack of food, lack of appropriate staff and access to health,” says Angel D’Angelo, a member of Restorative Justice Coalition and Fight Toxic Prisons.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Millions of Florida residents who were in the path Hurricane Ian’s path were ordered to evacuate. Advocates also urged authorities to evacuate more than 176,000 prisoners. That’s right, people incarcerated in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Some prisoners had their units evacuated. Others were kept in lockdown with only minimal staff. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said they declined to evacuate people from the 457-bed Fort Myers Jail, even though the county map shows the jail is in the mandatory evacuation zone. This morning, Good Morning AmericaAccording to the Lee County Sheriff, there were hundreds of fatalities in the area.

Many people were locked up in prisons or jails that didn’t evacuate after Hurricane Ida decimated southern Louisiana last September. They had limited access to water, food, and medicine for the following weeks. Many also remember the horror stories of people who were held in Orleans Parish Prison after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They were left in their cells as sewage-tainted waters rose to their chests.

For more, we’re joined in Tampa by Angel D’Angelo. He is also a member of Restorative Justice Coalition as well as Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

We are glad you are here Democracy Now!, Angel. Just tell us what you’ve learned, I mean, and this latest news out of Lee County, that they refused to evacuate the jail, even though it was in the evacuation zone.

ANGEL D’ANGELO:Good morning and thank you for having me here.

We’re very, very concerned about the conditions in Lee County, as well as throughout the entire zone of where Ian has landed. We haven’t gotten full updates on the status of people who are incarcerated, but we know from — as you mentioned earlier, from past incidences that jails, prisons, immigration centers and juvenile halls can be dangerous places during storms, especially with long-term power outages. So, it’s not just the windfall we’re worried about. We’re worried about the conditions in the days and weeks following, with no AC, lack of sanitation and water, lack of food, lack of appropriate staff and access to health.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And yesterday, Angel, the Florida Department of Corrections issued a press release outlining some of the safety measures they’ve put in place, saying approximately 2,500 inmates had been evacuated. Could you, please, put that in context, how many inmates there are in Florida — we mentioned a little in our introduction — in prisons, in jails and in detention centers? Two thousand five hundred people have been evacuated.

ANGEL D’ANGELO: I don’t know the number offhand, including all of the jails, prisons, federal jails, state levels, juvenile centers and in immigration centers, but I know that Florida is a large state as far as our mass incarceration. The United States, of course, being the holder of 25% of inmates in the world, Florida being one of the top in the United States, so the amount that they’ve evacuated certainly doesn’t scratch the surface.

I know there’s been some evacuations. We have two jails in Hillsborough County, Florida. Thanks to the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons they were able to evacuate individuals from Orient Road Jail and move them to Falkenburg Jail. Falkenburg Jail is at least not in an evacuation area. So, that’s one example of an evacuation that did happen, completely, to removing all inmates from that jail to prioritize their safety. And we’re not sure why Lee County and Charlotte County, who were in danger zones, did not take those actions.

AMY GOODMAN:Now, let’s talk about what authorities will say when you ask for the evacuation of these prisons. Where are they going to be evacuated?

ANGEL D’ANGELO: Absolutely. Fight Toxic Prisons members in Charlotte County contacted Charlotte County Jail to find out more. They were told that the jail is a shelter and that it is sturdy. And we hear “the building is sturdy” as quite a common line from prison and jail authorities.

And whether or not that’s true — I mean, it may even be true — it’s not just the windfall that we’re worried about, or the sturdiness of the building, but rather the after-effects for a group of forgotten people who really no one’s checking on. We’ve heard stories of flooding, for example, during Hurricane Michael in 2018. Florida prisons in Panhandle suffered roof damage, flooding, and a lack of staff and healthcare. So it’s not just about what’s happening during the windfall, but the days and sometimes weeks after the storm. So, the authorities also, on top of that, to consider — the authorities are also considering risking the lives of their own paid staff, as well as the people who are forced to stay there during incarceration.

AMY GOODMAN:Florida has the third-highest number of prisoners. California is — Texas is number one, with close to 136,000. California is number two, with more 97,000 prisoners. With over 81,000 inmates, Florida is number three. This is all starting in 2020. You also mentioned issues such as contamination of water and everything in prisons. Are you able to speak to those inside? Do you have access? Access is the greatest problem right now, and that includes prisoners who have access to the outside world at this time.

ANGEL D’ANGELO:Yes, it is. It is a concern all the time, but especially in an emergency. Fight Toxic Prisons members did speak to someone who was incarcerated and had some concerns. I can also confirm that I spoke directly with someone at Pasco County Jail. Pasco isn’t necessarily in a dangerous area, but all of Florida was declared in an emergency.

My friend from Pasco County Jail was subject to abuse over the past few weeks. He was forced into solitary confinement because of unrelated reasons. After two weeks of no contact, he finally was able call me. He barely seemed to be aware that there was storm and certainly not the intensity of it. When I asked questions about his general situation, he replied that he was aware of the storm. And he said that he felt that the building was safe as far as the exterior, but he identified to me that he has not heard about any extra safety protocols, and even said to me that a correctional office told him, “We don’t care about y’all in here.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Angel D’Angelo, we thank you for bringing attention to this very critical issue, and we will continue to cover it. Angel is part of the Restorative Justice Coalition and the Fight Toxic Prisons groups. He’s speaking to us from Tampa, Florida.

Next up, as Russia announces it’s formally going to annex four occupied areas of Ukraine, we’ll speak to a prominent Ukrainian journalist who’s just back from an area that has just been retaken by Ukraine, investigating potential war crimes. Stay with me.


AMY GOODMAN: “Fantastic Voyage” by Coolio. On Wednesday, the Grammy-winning rapper, 59, died.