Twitter Rages as NY Announces No Evacuation Plan for Rikers

Major publications avoided the biggest story in New York's battle against Hurricane Irene. Twitter played a critical row in bringing the news to the masses.

By Jorge Rivas Aug 29, 2011

At 11:31am Eastern Standard Time on Friday, just hours before Hurricane Irene was expected to hit New York, amNewYork confirmed that the city had no plans to evacuate the estimated 12,000 inmates being held on Rikers Island. A few hours later the New York Times City Room blog offered some more context, and that seemed to be the end of it. Major publications in New York city avoided the story that there was no evacuation plan for 12,000 people stuck in an island.

It took small publications like the a prisoner rights group blog Solitary Watch to offer real historical context on the potential danger that lay ahead for prisoners. "For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans," an entry posted early evening Friday read.

From there, the story unraveled on Twitter. Everyone from British politicians to political commentators and regular people alike got the story on publications like Gawker and Mother Jones.

Some even brought the UN human rights standards in to it. Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies even brought analysis from a UN human rights standards approach to Twitter.

What do the Guiding Principles say about treatment of inmates during a disaster? Below is a snippet from Kromm’s story.

In Principle Four, the U.N. clearly prohibits discrimination on the basis of "legal status" during disaster response. In other words, if it’s decided that evacuation is the best way to protect residents, that has to be applied to all people.

Further, Principle 11 prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of all people affected by a disaster.

These issues were brought into sharp focus in the wake of treatment of inmates at Orleans Parish Prison during and after Katrina.

We’ll bring you more in-depth coverage tomorrow. For now, take a look at some of the analysis that came from Twitter below.

Solitary Watch was one of the first publications to break the news of the lack of emergency plans at Rikers Island. They also have one of those most retweeted tweets on the subject.

British Conservative Party politician Louise Mensch brought news and analysis to her close to 39,000 followers across Europe.

Journalist and hip-hop historian Davey D points out most of the 12,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters held at the main city jail are not a bunch of killers.

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson delivers Mayor Bloomberg’s talking point.

The Director of the YWCA Racial Justice program takes on NYC Mayor Bloomberg.

PrisonReformMovement calls attention to why Rikers is an exceptionally dangerous island.