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FL corrections officials say no injuries to inmates, staff after storm passed; prison reform activists critical

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FL corrections officials say no injuries to inmates, staff after storm passed; prison reform activists critical

Sep 29, 2022 | 2:55 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
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FL corrections officials say no injuries to inmates, staff after storm passed; prison reform activists critical
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Dade Correctional Institution in Homestead, Fl. did not evacuate its inmates during Hurricane Ian. (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Florida Department of Corrections reported Thursday that there were no reported injuries to inmates or on-duty staff at various prison facilities throughout the state after Ian made landfall.

But prison reform activists remain critical, saying the department didn’t evacuate inmates at Charlotte Correctional Institution, at a time when Charlotte County was considered a target as Hurricane Ian battered southwest Florida.

Ian has now been downgraded to a tropical storm.

The corrections department did say that phone lines, tablets and kiosks may not be operational due to power outages that have occurred across the state. But it reported that “all inmates have access to food, water and safe shelter.”

Earlier this week, the department evacuated or relocated about 2,500 inmates from 23 facilities to other prisons around the state that were better equipped to weather the impacts of the storm.

One of those facilities where inmates did not evacuate was at Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda. Charlotte County was one of the hardest hit counties impacted by Ian. Charlotte County officials declared a local state of emergency in the county on Monday.

Activists with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons criticized state and local law enforcement officials for not evacuating inmates at that facility, saying it was only partially staffed and was “crowding people into a few dorms on lockdown, without explanation.”

The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to a question about its actions at Charlotte Correctional Institution, instead directing a reporter to look at their publicly issued statements.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons say that they mobilized in the days before Hurricane Ian made landfall to ensure that the “horrors” that took place at Federal Correctional institute Beaumont during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 didn’t happen again. Inmates in Beaumont, Texas were left in flooded prisons without adequate food or water after that storm, the Nation reported.

“At every level of the carceral system, there is an extremely dangerous lack of evacuation and safety protocols in place,” said Mei Azaad, a spokesperson for the group.

Denise Rock, the executive director of Florida Cares Charity, a criminal justice reform group, said that with Ian downgraded, she’s hoping that the FDC can now pivot to working on improving conditions for Florida prison inmates.

“While hurricane Ian works its way out of Florida those incarcerated are left to deal with the aftermath,” Rock told the Florida Phoenix in a written statement. “No power, no fans, no way to communicate with families. We at Florida Cares Charity recognize and appreciate the hard work of FDC, Aramark staff and all the incarcerated individuals performing jobs necessary to care for our loved ones. Over the next few days as clean up and repairs happen we hope to see the prioritization of communication between FDC, those incarcerated and their families.”

Ian was Florida’s first major storm since Hurricane Michael blasted into Florida’s Panhandle region in October 2018. That led to the temporary closing of FCI-Marianna due to extensive damage from that Category 4 storm.