Natural hazards and extreme weather encompass those hazards related to climate and weather such as heatwaves, floods, hurricanes as well as, geophysical hazards such as hurricanes. They are increasing in intensity and frequency, with an 80 per cent increase in climate related disasters over the last four decades.
People in prison are among those hardest impacted by natural hazards and extreme weather due to various factors including inadequate infrastructure of the facilities they are detained in and their inability to flee or protect themselves from the impacts of natural hazards and extreme weather.
There is a lack of global data and information about the number of people in prison impacted by natural hazards each year. National authorities may not collect this data and in the aftermath of a disaster it may be too difficult to obtain information on who was affected and how.
There can be serious human rights implications on the decisions made by prison authorities in how they prepare for and respond to natural hazards. The rights to life, health and dignity are frequently at risk.
The UN Nelson Mandela Rules state that prison accommodation must meet health requirements with proper climate control, ventilation, light and air in Rule 13. However, many prison buildings around the world are old and not maintained or renovated, lacking for instance air conditioning to withstand rising global temperatures or heatwaves, nor the accompanying extreme weather such as hurricanes and floods.
Certain groups in prison are made more vulnerable by natural hazards such as people with disabilities, older people, people with chronic or severe health conditions because preparation and response plans, or lack of, do not account for their needs.
In recent years, people in prison have been proposed as a potential emergency response workforce to natural disasters. In 2020, Australian authorities announced people in minimum security facilities could be trained to fight bush fires and support local rebuilding and cleaning efforts. Rehabilitation initiatives that help people in prison learn new skills and give back to the community can be an asset, however, participation in such schemes should be entirely voluntary, sufficiently compensated and undertaken with appropriate safety measures and training.