The Austin Chronicle

Doggett Seeks Info on Prison Evacuation (or Lack Thereof)

The Federal Bureau of Prisons kept some prisoners in place during Harvey flooding

By Sarah Marloff, September 15, 2017, News

U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett filed a formal inquiry to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Monday (Sept. 11) requesting information (and an explanation) as to why the agency decided to not evacuate inmates at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution as Harvey was busy pummeling the region late last month. According to multiple sources, including Truthout, which obtained a series of emails from Beaumont inmates, the prison suffered power outages – shutting off all air-conditioning – as well as overflowing sewage, and limited access to water and food. One email sent Sept. 4 reads: "Still no A/c or running water. We havent showered in 5 days or had a hot meal in 5 days...I hear we may have a real meal today...The 1st day they only gave us 2 bottles of water, since its been inconsistent, 3-5 a day." The inmate goes on to write that some inmates had taken to defecating in bags because the toilets were mostly "unusable."

In his request, Doggett asks the FBP to clarify "what actions are being undertaken to protect the wellbeing of prisoners and staff and to restore the facility to pre-disaster conditions." The Texas representative joins local nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, the ACLU of Texas, and more in demanding the federal prison system address the unlivable situation at FCI Beaumont, and to "create clear policy on the circumstances in which a federal prison must be evacuated," said ACLU Deputy Political Director Matt Simpson.

The threat of natural disasters to prisoners isn't new. After Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008, over 130 lawsuits were filed by inmates of the state-run prison outside Beaumont – all arguing that the living conditions after the storm were so deplorable it violated their civil rights. "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," wrote Natalia Cornelio of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "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."

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