As Hurricane Ike moved toward Galveston, authorities went to great lengths to evacuate the city's 57,000 residents, reiterating National Weather Service warnings that to stay in the face of a 20-25 foot storm surge expected to sweep over the island would be to court “certain death”. On Friday, stragglers were rescued by everything from helicopter to dump truck to fire truck to surfboard.
However, this concern for human life may not extend to one group of people who can't leave the low-lying barrier island if they want—the 1,000 inmates at the Galveston County Jail. As of 10 a.m. Friday, the prisoners still had not been evacuated to the mainland. Sheriff's department spokesman Ray Tuttoilmondo told the Houston Chronicle that "the prisoners and their safety and well-being are paramount and it will be handled” and any decision to move the prisoners would be kept secret for security reasons.
This may be. However, it's worth keeping in mind that one of the many horrors of Hurricane Katrina was the abandonment of the prisoners at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) who were locked in and left to their fate when floodwaters rose and their guards fled for high ground. Many inmates survived (just barely) standing in chest deep water for a day-and-a-half with no food or water before they were hauled away in some cases to maximum security state prisons. It is believed that some of the inmates at OPP drowned in their cells.
Keep in mind that those held in local jails are often petty criminals at worst, people tagged for public drunkenness, bounced checks, unpaid traffic tickets or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's likely that a substantial number of the inmates at the Galveston County Jail have been convicted of nothing at all and languish in jail because they cannot make bail and be released in advance of their trial date. And most of these people have families who are likely freaking out about what's going to become of them. So hopefully the sheriff's department was just being coy about its plans and has done the right thing in regards to the prisoners. If so, at least one needless tragedy will be avoided in what is likely to be an enormous catastrophe.