Some Local Jails Won't Move Prisoners from Hurricane Evacuation Zone

Sep 13, 2018

While parts of Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Norfolk, Virginia are under mandatory evacuation orders, prisoners at jails in those cities are staying put.  That’s upset one national non-profit which is crusading to get inmates out. 

When Common Cause learned that prisoners were not being evacuated from areas threatened by Hurricane Florence, the group asked its members to get on the phone – to complain to the South Carolina and Virginia Departments of Corrections. 

Paul Seamus Ryan, Vice President for Policy and Litigation at Common Cause, says some local jails are moving inmates to higher ground, but not all. “We’ve seen reporting that at least three local city jails in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Portsmouth, all of which sit in Zone A, an evacuation zone, individuals there  are not being evacuated,” he said.

As it happens, those jails are managed not by the state but by local sheriffs.  We reached the undersheriff in Portsmouth, Colonel Marvin Waters Jr., who’s lived in the area for 35 years and recalls Hurricane Isabel doing significant damage.

“That affected the power, the water supply, and it made a lot of flooding throughout the city," he recalls.     " We were without power for about a week and water for about five days also,” Waters remembered.

The jail’s basement has been known to flood during rainstorms, but he says there’s a generator, and evacuation of about 230 prisoners should not be necessary.

“We have enough food for the inmates, clothing and enough supplies to last us 30 to 40 days,” Waters says.

The city is now busing residents to shelters in local schools including one which is accepting pets.  If things get really bad, Waters adds, the city does have a plan to move prisoners to safety, and some of them may be put to work helping with clean up after the storm.