Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett has launched a formal inquiry into why residents of a prison facility near the Texas-Louisiana border were not evacuated during Hurricane Harvey—and whether rumors of horrific post-Harvey conditions in the prison are true.
This week, Doggett (D-TX35) announced he had contacted the Federal Bureau of Prisons “to express my concern and obtain clarification about what actions are being undertaken to protect the wellbeing of prisoners and staff and to restore the facility to pre-disaster conditions.”
While parts of Beaumont, TX were placed under either voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, inmates at the city’s three federal and three state prisons were reportedly left behind to deal with nearly a week without water, frequent power outages, and sanitation hazards exacerbated by the storm.
In a September 8 interview with Democracy Now, Rachel Villalobos relayed her incarcerated husband’s account of the post-storm conditions in the prison complex:
He explained the amount of food they were getting, which was two sandwiches a day, eight ounces of water. He said that the prison did get water in it, that all the inmates are using the number one and number two in bags, just to reserve the toilet water, so they could drink the toilet water. I explained to him, “Don’t drink the toilet water. Don’t drink that water in Beaumont.” You know, it has bacteria and all kinds of infestations in it. And he said, at this moment, he didn’t care. If the water didn’t kill him, then the situation was going to kill him. He said he was so dehydrated that when he woke up, his eyelids were sticking to his eyeballs. His tongue was sticking to the top of his mouth. That’s how severely dehydrated he was due to the lack of water.
In a separate interview with Leftvoice.org, Villalobos said her husband described the prison’s cells as having been flooded during the storm and claimed to have an email from another inmate’s spouse that said two prisoners had already died due to the post-storm conditions. And this week, the site Truthout published a cache of alarming emails they claimed come from Beaumont inmates describing similar conditions at the prison
None of Villalobos’ claims, or those made in the Truthout emails, have been officially corroborated.
An August 31 release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons said, “There was some flooding in and around areas of the FCC where inmates are not being housed, however, today the water has begun to recede. All inmates remain safe in their housing units.” It went on to say there was “an adequate food and water supply for both inmates and staff.”
This discrepancy between the bureau’s assessment and the alarming conditions described by Beaumont inmates prompted Doggett’s inquiry.
“The conditions being reported from the Beaumont prisons are unacceptable,” Natalia Cornelio, the Criminal Justice Reform Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, explained in a press release announcing the congressman’s inquiry. “There are accounts of overflowing toilets, of people being forced to defecate in bags, of insufficient water and food, and of people being kept in prison past the completion of their calculated sentences. This is contrary to law, and to basic standards of human decency.”