Thousands of inmates were being evacuated on Saturday from three prison facilities in Rosharon, Texas, as the Brazos River there continued to rise under heavy rains from Tropical Storm Harvey.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that about 4,500 inmates would be transported from the Ramsey, Terrell and Stringfellow units in Rosharon, which is just south of Houston, to other facilities in East Texas.
The prisoners were being transported by bus and accompanied by correctional officers and other staff.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure everybody’s safe while the evacuation process is being carried out,” said Robert Hurst, a public information officer with the criminal justice department.
He did not say where the prisoners would be taken, or how long the evacuation process might last.
While away from Rosharon, the prisoners will “not be available for visits at the designated receiving units, but will have the ability to use the offender telephone system,” the criminal justice department said.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Friday night. It was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday, but heavy rains and serious flooding are expected in the state’s southeast.
By Friday, the criminal justice department had canceled visitations for at least 29 prisons in the vicinity of the storm’s expected path. “This is something that we prepare for each year. Our command center is operating around the clock and we stand ready,” Bryan Collier, executive director of the department, said in a statement on Facebook.
Evacuations of the three prison facilities began on Saturday morning. By noon, the Brazos River near Rosharon had already risen by at least 15 feet since Friday, according to data from the National Weather Service.
The three facilities were also evacuated in May and June of last year, when the same river flooded under heavy rainfall. Prisoners were returned there after a couple of weeks.
The three all-male prisons do not house any death row inmates. Public records show that among the inmates are Shawn Allen Berry, one of three men convicted in the racially motivated killing of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged behind a car in 1998; and David Owen Brooks, who was convicted as an accomplice to Dean Corll, the perpetrator of the so-called Houston mass murders of the early 1970s.
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