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Flooding Causes Evacuation of 1,075 Detainees from California Jail

by Jordan Arizmendi

On New Year’s Day January 2023, as storms swelled California’s Cosumnes River near Sacramento, officials at the county’s Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) evacuated all 1,075 detainees, as well as all staff, to other nearby lockups.

The Sacramento County Sherriff’s Office said that an emergency operation center was activated to assess flood risks and monitor conditions near the jail. After initially waiving aside the risks “[a]s weather conditions worsened and road conditions eroded,” jail officials finally decided to evacuate as “the impending threat of flooding at the facility grew by the hour.”

Down the road in Corcoran, two state prisons – California State Prison-Corcoran and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Substance Abuse Treatment Facility – sat two miles from the rising waters of Tulare Lake. Between the prisons and the lake, an extensive irrigation system maintained by one of the largest cotton producers in the world, J.G. Boswell Company, resulted in more flooding.

As extreme weather events worsen, it is imperative that buildings with occupants locked inside must be evacuated to let them survive brutal floods. These are also some of the structures most at risk in storms; land for the two state prisons in Corcoran, for example, was sold to the state in 1985 by J.G. Boswell because the area was prone to flooding. Yet buildings in the carceral system are some of the last to be repaired and strengthened.

In 2022, the Cross City Correctional Institution began to flood in Florida’s Dixie County. Sewage water began to seep through the drains. According to prisoner DaRon Jones, guards told him and fellow prisoners to pack what they could in pillowcases and get ready to evacuate. However, Jones said he was never released from his cell even as it filled with filthy water.

“The water was close to ankle-dep,” he recalled, “with human waste floating by as we were fed in our cells.”

By January 17, 2023, two weeks after the storms, all detainees had been returned to RCCC.

Sources: CBS News, The Intercept, KORA, Truthout