More than 9,400 offenders moved to safety
TDCJ completes unprecedented evacuation ahead of hurricane landfall
When Rita roared, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice listened.
Prior to the huge Category 3 hurricane making landfall near Sabine Pass in far Southeast Texas, TDCJ completed its largest evacuation ever, utilizing ground vehicles and aircraft to move more than 9,400 offenders to safety.
|Hurricane Rita peeled away a wall from an offender dormitory at the Gist State Jail in Beaumont.
“This is more offenders than we’ve ever moved before,” said Correctional Institutions Division Director Doug Dretke as the unprecedented evacuation was in full swing.
Offenders from 10 TDCJ facilities near the coast were evacuated over a two-day period. Buses carried 1,097 offenders from the Scott Unit in Angleton to the Ellis Unit in Huntsville and the Ferguson Unit in Midway. Another 1,132 offenders were moved from the Clemens Unit in Brazoria to the Hightower Unit in Dayton, and the Wynne and Estelle units in Huntsville. More than 1,570 offenders from the Terrell Unit in Rosharon were bused to either the Lewis Unit in Woodville, the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, or the Eastham Unit in Lovelady.
In Richmond, nearly 1,100 offenders from the Jester III Unit were transferred to the storm-sturdy Jester I and Jester IV facilities. Approximately 310 special needs offenders from the Young Unit in Texas City were relocated to the Estelle Unit in Huntsville, the Gatesville Unit in Gatesville, and the Plane State Jail in Dayton. The Plane facility also sheltered the 540 offenders from the neighboring Henley Unit for the duration of the storm.
Meanwhile, 71 prisoners being treated at the Hospital-Galveston Unit were evacuated to Palestine Memorial Hospital, Huntsville’s Estelle Unit, and the University of Texas medical facility in Tyler. TDCJ also evacuated approximately 340 juvenile offenders from the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) facility in Beaumont to TYC facilities in Giddings, Corsicana and Mart.
TDCJ cancelled plans to evacuate all offenders from the Ramsey I and Ramsey II units to other facilities when the storm unexpectedly turned away from the Brazoria County area, the original projected site of landfall, and headed east toward Sabine Pass. The agency then moved to evacuate offenders from the Gist State Jail and LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont, but traffic congestion in the area made a timely exodus impossible.
To compensate, the entire offender populations at LeBlanc and Gist were quickly moved to the neighboring Stiles Unit, a hardened maximum-security unit. Later, more than 1,300 offenders from LeBlanc and 170 parolees from a halfway house in Beaumont were airlifted to Corpus Christi aboard three aircraft provided by the U.S. Marshal’s Service. The airlifted prisoners were then bused to TDCJ facilities in Beeville. As soon as the storm passed, more than 2,100 offenders from Gist were bused to the Michael, Coffield and Beto units in Tennessee Colony. Another 253 offenders were moved from the Lewis Unit in Woodville to the Huntsville Unit.
The Parole Division moved another 400 parolees from a halfway house in Houston to various inland locations prior to the storm making landfall. Parole officers also contacted approximately 1,500 high-risk offenders in the Beaumont area so they could be tracked and supervised if ordered to evacuate.
“We went and saw all of our sex offenders and those on electronic monitoring prior to the storm to get an evacuation plan from them,” said Parole Division Director Bryan Collier. “They were given a toll-free number to call if they got evacuated and instructed to call and tell us where they were so we could supervise them wherever they ended up. With the high-risk offenders, we had to see them no matter where they were.”
Collier said parole officers worked out of an office in Beeville to help prison security officers with the parolees transported there. And as Rita shifted eastward toward Jefferson County, district parole offices in Nederland, Orange and Beaumont were closed and their staffs moved to a makeshift office inside the Stiles Unit chapel where they continued to supervise parolees remaining in the area.
“We put those officers from those offices who had not been evacuated at Stiles to basically run a parole office out of the unit,” Collier said.
Collier said the parole office in Nederland was so damaged by the storm that it was closed permanently and its staff absorbed by the Beaumont office.
“They were outstanding,” Collier said about the job parole officers did before and after the storm to protect public safety. “They performed beyond expectations and really made it happen.”