Inmates, by virtue of that status, do not cede their human rights.

-Imani J. Jackson

During Hurricane Irma, one particularly vulnerable group, jail and prison inmates, remained in peril. As Irma barreled through Caribbean islands, demolished properties in the Florida Keys, terrified residents in and visitors to the American southeast coast, and was predicted to directly hit metropolitan South Florida before riding up the center of Florida impacting millions more people, scores of South Florida inmates were left incarcerated in evacuation zones.

Although the Florida Department of Corrections evacuated some prisons later in the week, national and local officials kept some inmates right in Miami-Dade correctional facilities. This meant inmates, largely Black and Brown people, faced an unprecedented storm and its spinoff effects — which include storm surge, power outages, diseases in standing water, tornados and debris-turned-projectiles.

RELATED: Hurricane Irma kills 9 in Caribbean as Florida awaits landfall

A Miami-Dade public defender, who spoke with Vice on the condition of anonymity, told the publication that inmates were left in the dark about what would happen to them as Irma loomed. “I’ve been getting some calls from inmates, but none of them have been told anything,” the attorney said before adding that clients’ relatives did not have a clearer idea about their incarcerated family member or members’ status during the historic storm.

While calls for environmental justice increase and climate change activists advocate for compassionate and forward-thinking stewardship of the earth and its resources, the United States must also confront the ways its government too readily throws away entire populations, leaves them directly in paths dangerous to their survival or adopts the mindset that people convicted of crimes — or otherwise currently incarcerated, deserve whatever scenario they confront.

Inmates, by virtue of that status, do not cede their human rights. And Hurricane Irma was not some cookie cutter tropical storm that made a beach day rainy. She was a precipitous behemoth, the kind of storm that left Barbuda completely uninhabitable – for the first time in 300 years.

Inmates, that is to say people who are incarcerated, should not be left in limbo facing conditions like that again.

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