Hundreds of Thousands of Incarcerated People Are in Danger Amid Scorching Heat

This summer is expected to be one of the hottest ever recorded, with heat waves melting roads across Europe. thousand-acre fires in Texas California, scorching peopleAll the globe. People behind bars feel as if they are melting or being cooked alive in high temperatures across the country.

Temperatures in parts of Texas have soared to over 100 degrees every day for the past week — with no relief in sight. The state has the tenth-highest incarcerationThis is the highest in the country, with 840 people behind bars for every 100,000. Texas state prisons are equipped with air conditioning in the administrative, education, and medical areas. nearly 70 percent Air conditioning is not available in housing units, which can lead to the imprisonment of over 120,000 persons. According to The Intercept, 9 out of every 10 of the state’s carceral facilities are in places where the heat index reaches over 90 degrees more than 50 days each year.

That includes Gatesville, which is home to five Texas prisons (four of which are women’s prisons) and one state jail (which incarcerates people with sentences of less than two years). Since mid-June, the temperature in Gatesville has hovered around or above 100 degrees.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice TruthoutIts 15 female facilities have at least partial air conditioning. However, air-conditioning is not available in the female segregation units. These women spend at least 23 hours per day behind a concrete wall and are locked behind a steel door.

“I am melting!” wrote “Diana,” who is in one of those women’s prisons, in a letter to Truthout. (Diana enquired that TruthoutTo avoid retaliation, do not publish her legal name.

She can open her window, however, it does not have a screen to keep out insects and mosquitoes. She and others often use mesh bags as screens to keep their windows open. This allows them to be less likely to be bitten or have a bug-infested room. Diana said that even that minor mitigation is now being banned by the prison administration.

Officers told her recently that the new warden has ordered them to issue disciplinary tickets for women who cover their windows, use blankets to block the overhead light or place fans in the windows to create breeze. “Punishment is a major case,” Diana explained, referring to what the prison would call a serious violation of prison rules. A “major case” would result in 60 to 90 days of being stripped of all belongings except for a fan, a handful of hygiene products and correspondence supplies. This means that there is no radio or tablet to break up monotony or keep track of outside news. No books. No magazines. No photos or letters from relatives.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Truthout that a review of the department’s database does not show that these types of cases are actually being written. Diana and others in the segregation group believe that even the threat of being killed can deter them from trying the alleviate the heat.

“I mistakenly believed I was acclimated to the heat,” Diana wrote in another letter, which arrived water-buckled from her perspiration. “I knew what to do — stay in soaking wet clothes and [stay] hydrated.” But during one of those 100-degree days, she became dizzy and nauseated. She was still dizzy after she was allowed to get out of her cell for an hour in the outdoor recreation. She fell on her head and was dizzy in the shower. A sympathetic officer helped her to get up and get dressed. Then, she was seated in front of a fan in a chair. Diana fell unconscious when she attempted to walk back into her cell.

“In all the time I’ve been in prison, I’ve never fainted,” Diana wrote. “It’s very scary.”

Her fears are not unfounded. Since 1998, the state’s prisons have documentedAt least 23 heat-related deaths have been recorded. Between January 2018 and October 2018, prisons reported heat-related illnesses among 79 inmates and prison staff. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, at least 13 states in the nation’s hottest regionsTexas is the only state that doesn’t have universal air conditioning for its prison systems.

Studies have shown that prolonged heat exposure can cause dehydration. heat stroke. Kristina Dahl is a senior climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists. She stated that in an average year, heat kills more people in the United StatesMore than any other extreme weather. Extreme heat can also affect internal organs, leading in renal failure, heart attack and strokes.

Many behind bars also have medical conditions or are on medication such as psychotropic and high-blood pressure medications. These make them vulnerable to severe heat strokes. They are unable to access a nearby cooling centre, take a dip in the tub, or drink unlimited amounts of cold water.

It’s not only Texas where summers are sweltering — and where people locked in cells and dormitories fear for their safety. Some parts of Washington, not a state known for heat waves, have seen temperatures reach triple digits at some prison towns, while others hover around the 90 degree mark. During last summer’s heat wave, people incarcerated in 10 of the state’s 12 prisons filed nearly 100 grievances about the extreme temperatures they experienced inside and the state prison system’s failure to establish clear and actionable heat plans.

Behind bars, violence escalates with the heat. Kimberly Henny (55-year-old) was incarcerated at the federal jail in Waseca, Minnesota. TruthoutThe lack of ventilation makes housing units much more hot than the 85-degree temperature in the town. She is concerned about heat exhaustion and increased violence, as tempers flare and access to mental health services remains limited. She described numerous fights that included beatings with padlocks and a stabbing at her housing unit. This was all within a span of one week. (Another woman confirmed, writing, “The violence here is awful.”)

There is no relief in sight

In 2014, men incarcerated at Texas’s Wallace Pack Unit prison filed suit charging that keeping them in temperatures that regularly rose above 100 degrees constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The court agreed with them, ruling that the prison system was deliberately indifferent to the possible harm from excessive heat in its facilities. The state lost money as the department continued to fight the lawsuit. over $7 millionBefore agreeing to install air conditioning in 2018, we paid legal fees. The Pack Unit required air conditioning to be installed at a cost of approximately $2,500 $4 million.

That years-long fight — and settlement — provides no relief for those in many of the state’s other prisons. Legislative attempts to reduce the heat waves’ effects have failed.

The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill in May 2021 that would have allocated approximately $100 million each year to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to cool its prisons and expand air conditioning. This was good news for Diana and thousands of other prisoners throughout Texas. The bill was then passed. died in the Senate.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal JusticeIf the heat index is above 90 degrees, people in prison receive additional water and/or ice. “Everyone has access to ice and water, which is continuously being resupplied,” Amanda Hernandez, the department’s director of communications, said in an email to Truthout. In some areas, incarcerated persons are allowed to wear shorts and/or t-shirts. They can also request access to cooling areas.

But that doesn’t always happen, charges a recent report from the Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. Incarcerated people across the state, including Diana, have reported not being given water or ice, being threatened with disciplinary tickets for not wearing their full uniforms, and being denied access to respite areas (or being taken to respite areas which are just as hot — and sometimes filthier — than their housing units).

Hernandez declined to comment on this report and its allegations.

Substandard Cooling Systems

Over 2,000 people are imprisoned at the Central California Women’s Facility in the state’s central area. (Not all prisoners in the prison identify as female. Summers are when the prison depends on swamp coolersThese coolers are also known as evaporative cooling systems. They keep temperatures down.

“These swamp coolers consistently break down and need constant repair,” one woman wrote in 2017. “Triple digit temperatures are always expected every summer. I don’t know if CDCR exists. [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] bothered to prepare for next summer’s heat by taking into consideration the rate of how often these swamp coolers break down by actually buying parts that are needed for next summer so we won’t be in the same boat as we are this summer.”

Five years later, prisoners at the prison still complain that the coolers don’t do enough to cool down the heat. “There is no a/c and they rarely turn on the swamp cooler,” “Taylor” wrote to Truthout. (Taylor requested that her legal identity not be used in order to prevent retaliation.

Although those in prison can purchase a fan, it is not affordable for everyone. “I went 12 years without one,” Taylor wrote.

In years past, housing units had ice machines. frequently broken. However, they could still use ice to cool themselves down when they were functioning. However, insiders report that they have no access to ice water or ice ice.

The same holds true for the state’s other female prison — the California Institution for Women (CIW) in southern California. Temperatures are currently slightly lower — in the low 90s — than in the central valley, but conditions still cause advocates to be concerned, particularly because CIW houses many of the state’s aging incarcerated women.

On July 1, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners sent a letter on behalf of their imprisoned members to CIW’s acting warden, Jennifer Core, outlining their concerns about high temperatures and the prison’s continued lockdowns in response to COVID outbreaks. (As per July 26The prison has 27 active criminal cases and 60 new cases within the last 14 days. The prison had reported 210 cases in the past two weeks.

“We know that an evaporated cooling system was installed in the housing units fairly recently. What continues to be unclear to us is how effective this system actually is at providing cooler temperatures inside the cells,” the organization’s letter stated. Thermometers were used in housing units to allow staff and prisoners to measure the temperature. The thermometers are now kept in the staff room, which has air conditioning, and can be brought out for routine inspections.

“I think we can all acknowledge that a C.O. [correctional officer] walking down the hallway with a pre-cooled thermometer will not provide an accurate reading of the actual temperature,” the organization’s letter continued. “It would be unreasonable to expect the C.O. to stand in the hallway or in a cell for the minimum 20 minutes it would take for that thermometer to recalibrate and then provide an accurate reading.”

LaVelma doesn’t need to look at a thermometer to know that the new units do not provide much cooling. “We’re burning up!” she wrote to Truthout. “The later it gets the hotter it will get. So keep us in your prayers please!” (LaVelma asked that her first name not be published to prevent retaliation.)

Rita Deanda also agrees. “It is so hot here and worse in our cells,” she wrote to Truthout. In response to queries about the cooling system, she responded, “The cooling system was installed do they work? Do you feel cooler? Are you kidding me not at all it was a waste of millions of dollars.”

Deanda and others take multiple showers during heat waves to cool down. But when their housing units are on quarantine — which Deanda’s is now — showers are only at assigned times. She explains her strategy for staying cool while locked in her cell: “I wet a towel, [wear]I will wear a sports bra and boxers, and then lay the towel on my body. The fan will blow on me. Sometimes I have to get up and wet the towel once more because it dries. It is the only way I can sleep at night.”

Deanda, now 57, says that despite her 20 years spent in prison, she is still in good physical health. LaVelma, who is now in her 70s, suffers from asthma, shortness, fatigue, and allergies. She was diagnosed with COVID in 2020, which continues to worsen her breathing problems. She is not seeing any relief as the temperatures continue to climb into the 90s throughout the week.

CDCR did not respond our request for comment.

Air Conditioning Access is Uneven

“Alice” is currently incarcerated at the federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, where outside temperatures have remained in the 90s. (Alice requested that her true name be withheld in order to avoid retaliation.

Although Alabama’s state prisons don’t have universal air conditioning, the federal prison at Aliceville, which opened in 2013, has it. “It’s hospital-cold in here at all times; in all of the housing units, all offices, the cafeteria, library, kitchen, laundry, etc.” Alice told Truthout. “So, we are fine except when working outside but they do encourage plenty of water and let you go inside if you are too hot. So, while Alabama is hot as hell, it’s very manageable in here.”

Oklahoma’s women’s prisons, both of which opened in 1998Air conditioning is available. Although temperatures in the outside town of McLoud are expected to soar above 100 degrees this week and throughout the summer, those at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, the state’s largest women’s prison, have occasionally reported blocking the ventsTo prevent extreme cold.

At the lower-security Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Oklahoma, however, “Edie,” who asked to use a pseudonym to prevent retaliation, reports that the air conditioning units have been struggling, and sometimes breaking down, in the triple-degree weather. Women who have bought individual fans from the prison commissary can only use them if their bunks are next to an electrical outlet, which, Edie noted, “are few and far between in the open dorms.” Still, she acknowledges that the women there are lucky. “The men in Oklahoma prisons have no air at all I have always heard/been told and I can’t imagine what that is like especially in this heat!!!” she reflected.

Families and advocates continue to press the prisons to provide adequate relief for the summer heat. Florida’s political candidates joined family members and advocates at an Orlando rally demanding that the state’s department of correction provide air conditioning in all of its prisons. The Texas Prisons Community Advocates — an organization co-founded by the wife of an incarcerated Texan — has been pressing a similar demand in the Lone Star State.

Even in Texas, some lawmakers are recognizing the extent of the problem — and the lack of political willpower to address it. On July 25, at a hearing of the Texas legislature’s committee on corrections, Representative Terry Canales pressed his fellow lawmakers about the state’s inaction. “I don’t think we have a money problem. We have a give a damn problem. Out of sight, out of mind,” he declared.