Prisoners Evacuated but ICE Detainees in Louisiana Suffer During Hurricane Laura
As these two wound their way inexorably toward the Louisiana and Texas coastlines, federal and state emergency management agencies prepared for the worst and prayed for the best, working feverishly around the clock. In prison-rich Jefferson County, Texas, federal and state prisons were left bereft of inhabitants as busload after busload of prisoners were evacuated.
However, to the east, a completely opposite scenario played out for many state and federal prisoners, particularly immigrant detainees held under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency at Jackson Parish Correctional Center (JPCC) immigration jail in Jonesboro and LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla. In the wake of Hurricane Laura’s swath of utter destruction through that area, the Southern Poverty Law Center said family members reported “suffocating conditions,” including poor ventilation in the extreme heat, plus power, flooding and sewage failures.
Louisiana’s economic fortunes improved in 2019 when ICE decided on for-profit jailers like GEO and LaSalle Corrections to house asylum seekers and detainees awaiting hearings and deportation.
Even amid the raging coronavirus pandemic, ICE and immigration judges denied applications for bond and parole and kept the eight detention facilities — some of which were formerly shuttered prisons — full of human misery. Instead, they left detainees in place to weather Laura’s wrath and aftermath.
On August 28, the JPCC lost power and water. Without air conditioning, the heat soared to the point that guards allowed detainees to sleep in the yard at night. Without water, toilets could not flush and it was not long until back flushing began. Detainees had no choice but to mop and clean this bare-handed as LaSalle Corrections was not about to furnish personal protective equipment to them, even under the dire circumstances.
In fact, LaSalle at first prohibited its employees from wearing masks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, despite the fact that coronavirus comes in from outside of lock-ups, not originating from within the lock-ups themselves.
Detainees suffering coronavirus symptoms were tested, then returned to their dorms. When their tests returned with positive results, only then were they isolated. By then they had infected other detainees. Conditions became so bad that by August 30, JPCC had a minor uprising, although officials denied any use of force.
As of September 1, ICE’s website admitted to nine active coronavirus cases at JPCC, but that agency is not exactly a paragon of timely self-reporting. None of the other seven GEO and LaSalle ICE detention centers in that area fared any better than JPCC, according to reports.