After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Norton Asks BOP For Its Plans to Evacuate D.C. and Other Inmates in the Event of Major Natural Disasters

Sep 25, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released her letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) asking whether BOP has the capacity and planning in place to move and relocate inmates from facilities facing severe damage from flooding, hurricanes or other natural disasters.  Norton is seeking assurances that, in the event of a natural disaster, District of Columbia Code felons, who are the only local prisoners housed at BOP facilities, located across the country, would be safe and able to contact their families.

In her letter, Norton wrote, “Considering the increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters in many parts of the country, such as the Gulf Coast and the southeast, I ask whether, should the need arise, BOP has the capacity to move all prisoners in a given facility that may be affected by natural or other disasters to other facilities that would still allow BOP staff to fully manage the inmates while keeping local residents safe.  I am also requesting that you send BOP’s policies and plans for determining when and how to evacuate BOP facilities during natural or other disasters.”

Norton thanked then-BOP Acting Director Thomas Kane for being responsive to her after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  She and her office have been in continuous contact with the BOP on the status of the 158 D.C. inmates at BOP facilities in Florida, and Norton previously spoke with Kane after Hurricane Harvey damaged the BOP facility in Beaumont, TX, which houses 48 D.C. inmates.  According to BOP, there was limited damage to BOP facilities as a result of Irma, all inmates and staff have been accounted for and there were no injuries to either staff or inmates.  Telephone service, electronic messaging capability, power and water services are operational at all Florida BOP facilities.

Below is Norton’s full letter.

Thomas R. Kane
Acting Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street NW, Room 642
Washington, DC 20534

Dear Acting Director Kane:

First, I want to thank you again for speaking with me after the recent flooding in Beaumont, Texas, that affected the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities there.  I also appreciate that your staff has kept me informed regarding Hurricane Irma in Florida, where 158 District of Columbia inmates are located.

More urgently, however, I am writing because of my concern that many BOP facilities are in parts of the country that are exposed to floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.  As you know, D.C. Code offenders are the only state or local felons housed by BOP.  They are often at facilities that are much further from their families and support groups than other BOP inmates, who may be housed within or closer to their home state.  Considering the increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters in many parts of the country, such as the Gulf Coast and the southeast, I ask whether, should the need arise, BOP has the capacity to move all prisoners in a given facility that may be affected by natural or other disasters to other facilities that would still allow BOP staff to fully manage the inmates while keeping local residents safe.  I am also requesting that you send BOP’s policies and plans for determining when and how to evacuate BOP facilities during natural or other disasters.

The update that I have received regarding the 158 D.C. inmates located in prisons across the State of Florida indicates that telephone service, electronic messaging capability, power and water services are operational at both facilities in Miami, though the Federal Detention Center in Miami sustained minor water damage and the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Miami sustained limited structural damage.  I was pleased by the report that FCI Tallahassee, FCI Marianna, the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola and the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman are all operating normally.

I ask that you respond to the part of this letter concerning BOP preparedness to natural and other disasters.  I look forward to working with you on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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