While residents living in Zone A areas head to shelters, and the rest of the city hunkers down for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, one group of New Yorkers who live on a tiny island between Queens and the Bronx are staying put: prisoners at Rikers Island. In a press conference yesterday, Mother Jones reports that Mayor Bloomberg said, "We are not evacuating Rikers Island." As the city's Department of Corrections tells the New York Times, "no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day exists."

Of the 12,000 prisoners on Rikers, many are those with mental illnesses, and juveniles and pre-trial detainees (those who have not been convicted of a crime) are also housed there. Three-quarters of the jails at Rikers are built atop a landfill, "which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters." Lest we wonder why failing to evacuate prisoners is a problem, here is an excerpt from an ACLU report on Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans, which was not evacuated during Hurricane Katrina.

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.