Prison Populations in a Disaster: A Labor Force, a Vulnerable Population, and a Hazard

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
J. Carlee PURDUM, Louisiana State University, USA
Within the field of emergency management, incarcerated persons (prisoners) occupy a variety of roles and identities. Across the U.S., emergency management has been shown to utilize labor provided by prisoners to prepare for and respond to various emergencies and disasters. Emergency management and corrections officials alike have traditionally viewed prisoners as a hazardous population, concentrating preparedness efforts to respond to riots, hostage situations, escapes, and general violent disorder within prisons. However, in more recent history, scholars and policy-makers have begun to recognize prisoners as a vulnerable population lacking the resources and individual agency necessary to protect themselves in the event of an emergency or a disaster. Should a natural disaster or technological event threaten a corrections institution, prisoners must fully rely on the staff of the institution to provide for their safety and welfare. Despite this momentum, there has been little effort to comprehensively examine the differences in how prisoners are viewed by emergency management. This analysis examines the different roles and identities invoked within emergency management operations (source of labor, hazard, or vulnerable population) and how these roles and identities vary across states as well as the implications of these differences. With the use of Atlas.ti software, a content-analysis of 43 state-level Emergency Operations Plans was conducted. Results reveal that the majority of states identify prisoners as a labor resource, a hazard, and a vulnerable population while the second largest majority identifies them solely as a labor resource. Differences in how prisoners are identified prompt questions about their role within the disaster context as well as a need for further research. Differences amongst states and regions are explored.