Rikers prisoners work for Sandy recovery

Before the storm Mayor Bloomberg showed disregard for inmates, who added relief work to 39 cents-an-hour labor

By Natasha Lennard
November 27, 2012 11:31PM (UTC)
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Rikers Island from above (Wikimedia)

As Superstorm Sandy approached the East Coast, Salon reported on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's callous comment about Rikers Island prison inmates during the storm. When asked by a reporter about how the prison would fare in the storm, Bloomberg did not comment on inmate safety, but said only, "Jails are secure … Don’t worry about anyone getting out.”

Disregard for the inmates ahead of the storm has turned to reliance in its wake. The New York Times called Rikers inmates "unsung heroes" of Sandy's relief -- prisoners who work at the Rikers laundry center for 39 cents an hour added extra loads to their work to clean blankets and sheets for the city's overloaded shelters.


"Inmates did 6,600 pounds of laundry for people in emergency shelters. The jail supplied generators and gas to fuel them to neighborhoods in the dark, and donated long underwear usually given to inmates," the Times noted. The New York Times piece largely praised the work of correctional officers in offering time and resources to Sandy victims. Colorlines, however, took a more critical approach, noting "There was no Hurricane Sandy evacuation plan for inmatesinside New York City’s main jail complex on Riker’s Island but they were certainly put to work in the recovery efforts. The New York Times is reporting Riker’s Island prisoners who worked in post-Sandy recovery efforts were paid 39 cents an hour."

Rikers houses an estimated 11,000 inmates of which, Colorlines pointed out, "it’s estimated 92 to 95 percent of the Rikers population is black or Latino." The prison complex was itself unscathed by the storm.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Hurricane Sandy Mayor Bloomberg Prison Prison Labor Rikers Island Sandy Relief