(AUSTIN, Texas) — Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett has filed a formal inquiry to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeking answers regarding the federal agency’s response to Hurricane Harvey. Specifically, the decision not to evacuate Beaumont-area prisons left prisoners in conditions that included inadequate and unsanitary sewage treatment, intermittent power shortages, and lack of access to food, water and medical care.
“Due to several reports of alarming conditions at the Beaumont facility, I have inquired with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to express my concern and obtain clarification about what actions are being undertaken to protect the wellbeing of prisoners and staff and to restore the facility to pre-disaster conditions,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett.
“It’s not like prison officials didn’t see this coming,” said Jorge Renaud, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership who himself spent over two decades in prison. “These individuals are ignored, but they are people with families, who come from the same communities the rest of us do, including the communities that have been most ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. Prison officials have a duty to ensure that this most vulnerable of populations is treated humanely and with dignity.”
“People in jails and prisons are vulnerable because we have taken away their ability to fend for themselves — they don’t get the option to evacuate when hurricanes come to shore. Therefore, the government has a legal and moral duty to protect them during disasters,” said Brian McGiverin, a civil rights attorney with the Prison Justice League.
Referring to reports that Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) had severe shortages of water and food and had also been plagued by sewage overflows, Matt Simpson, Deputy Political Director for the ACLU of Texas, blamed a lack of preparedness by prison officials. “By failing to evacuate the federal prison in Beaumont, the Bureau of Prisons has put the lives and well-being of prisoners in danger. No court would permit a prison to operate with overflowing sewage or a lack of medical care and food and water but reports indicate that failing to evacuate the FCI Beaumont facility predictably lead to these conditions. The BOP must immediately address the issues in FCI Beaumont and create clear policy on the circumstances in which a federal prison must be evacuated,” said Simpson.
The risks faced by prisoners in the path of a hurricane have been known for years. More than 130 lawsuits were filed by prisoners residing in TDCJ's LeBlanc Unit in late 2008, alleging that the prison conditions following Hurricane Ike violated their civil rights. Additionally, the Texas Civil Rights Project released a study in 2009 that exposed the abuses prisoners experienced in the Galveston County Jail after Hurricane Ike. Among TCRP’s findings were serious threats to prisoners’ health regarding sanitation, food and water.
“The conditions being reported from the Beaumont prisons are unacceptable. There are accounts of overflowing toilets, of people being forced to defecate in bags, of insufficient water and food, and of people being kept in prison past the completion of their calculated sentences. This is contrary to law and to basic standards of human decency,” said Natalia Cornelio, the Criminal Justice Reform Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This was also preventable. These prisons have been on notice of the potential for this type of disaster for at least a decade and have had multiple opportunities to plan and prepare accordingly. The Bureau of Prisons and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safety and meeting the basic human needs of those in their custody. They have not done their jobs and we will hold them accountable.”
Part of the attempt to keep the federal prisons accountable was an advisement to the BOP, issued by the National Lawyer’s Guild, demanding that the agency rectify what it claims are constitutional violations at the Texas facility.
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.
Jorge Renaud, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-499-8111
Zenén Jaimes Pérez, email@example.com, 512.474.5073 ext. 116
Stephen Wilson, ACLU of Texas, (713) 325-7010, firstname.lastname@example.org