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Inmates get head start on evacuation

By Christy Oglesby

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(CNN) -- They're arguably the safest structures around in the face of hurricane-generated winds exceeding 80 mph.

They often have lots of bricks, with some fortified steel and plenty of mortar. Windows are small and few and far between usually. And there's likely some razor wire to complete security.

Even so, prisons aren't always so airtight when hurricane season arrives. That's why prison and local jail officials must take certain factors into consideration when deciding what to do with incarcerated people who have lost their right to decide whether or not they want to evacuate.

With Hurricane Isabel on its way Thursday afternoon, a North Carolina prison official recapped the plan of how the state handles people who can't take refuge at a Red Cross shelter.

"We look at the structural soundness of the facility to see if it can withstand the strength of the storm, and if not, we move them to other facilities out of the affected areas," said Mildred Spearman, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Correction.

North Carolina started implementing its plan Monday when the hurricane was churning hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean.

Of 34,210 inmates, the state moved 699 from four facilities. The evacuees included prisoners from Gates Correctional Center near Gatesville, Tyrrell Prison Work Farm in Columbia, Hyde Correctional Institution in Swan Quarter and Wilmington Residential Facility for Women in Wilmington.

While the Hyde facility was deemed safe enough to weather the storm, state officials relocated minimum security inmates to make room for staff should flooding or electricity issues make it difficult for them to get to work.

State officials also took in 201 people from county and city jails. They all came from the coastal counties of Hyde, Beaufort, Dare and Pamlico, Spearman said.

The logistics of having enough buses and guards on hand to make the moves take time and can't wait until the last minute, she said. Sometimes there is a need to transport additional mattresses, food and medical services.

"We start thinking about it as soon as we get news that it could present a danger," Spearman said.

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