"We are not evacuating Rikers Island": New York City Mayor's decision gets mixed reviews

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose not to evacuate Rikers Island -- where ten inmate detention facilities are located -- before Hurricane Irene made landfall. Human rights organizations and many Twitter users criticized the decision throughout the weekend.


  1. While Hurricane Irene swirled toward New England during the weekend, a storm of criticism aimed itself at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) over his evacuation plans.


    Despite ordering a historic mandatory evacuation of some 300,000 people who live in low-lying areas of New York City, Bloomberg decided not to evacuate the Rikers Island correctional facilities, which house about 12,000 inmates at any given time.

  2. Bloomberg outlined the city's final evacuation plans at a press conference on Friday and encouraged everyone in low-lying areas to be out by 5 p.m. Saturday citing potential dangers to public safety. 

    "Nature is a force more powerful than any of us, and it really is better to be safe than sorry," Bloomberg said.

  3. According to evacuation plans, the city has three different flood zones.

  4. NYC evacuation zones map legend
    NYC evacuation zones map legend
  5. (Image courtesy of Google Maps)

  6. More areas were added to the plan -- including the Rockaways, which is in Zone B -- but Rikers Island was not. 

  7. Below is a map of the plan and the map's legend. Rikers Island (circled in red) is not shaded as an evacuation area despite being surrounded by orange and yellow.

    (Click the image to enlarge.)

  8. NYC evacuation zones Map
    NYC evacuation zones Map
  9. NYC evacuation zones map legend
    NYC evacuation zones map legend
  10. (Images courtesy of Google Maps)

  11. The City of New York Department of Corrections website announced via a bolded headline at the top its homepage that visits and property pick up were suspended Saturday and Sunday, however. 

    (Click the image to enlarge.)

  12. City of New York Department of Correction homepage
    City of New York Department of Correction homepage
  13. Solitary Watch (@solitarywatch), a group that keeps an eye on "solitary confinement and other forms of torture in U.S. prisons," was one of the first organizations to speak out against Bloomberg's decision on its website.

  14. From the web post:

    "According to the New York City Department of Corrections' own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island's 400 acres are built on landfill -- which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness -- not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island."

  15. At another press conference, Bloomberg defended his decision by citing that Rikers Island is allegedly on higher ground. 

  16. New York City took ownership of Rikers Island in the 1884, and there are ten different detention facilities located there, including a maximum security prison that was built in 1933 and has undergone the first of two phases of renovations.

    The inmate population includes men, teens and women, some of whom are mentally or physically ill. The range of the offenses committed is wide -- an inmate can be at a Rikers facility awaiting trial due to an inability to make bail or can be a convicted felon serving hard time.

  17. Screen shot 2011-08-27 at 5.32.47 PM
    Screen shot 2011-08-27 at 5.32.47 PM
  18. Rikers Island can only be accessed by bridge.