Why Temperatures in Prisons and Jails Matter

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Most states do not require their correctional facilities to regulate their temperatures.

In serious cases, overheating can lead to death. In 2011, ten people incarcerated in Texas prisons died from heat-related causes—setting off a series of lawsuits that ended with the state agreeing to place permanent air conditioning amenities inside units. In the last week of July 2018, as temperatures in the South reached over 100 degrees, nearly a dozen incarcerated people and staff in Texas were treated for heat-related illnesses.

Those incarcerated have little control over how they live. During heat waves, facilities without air conditioning may offer water and ice, train staff to recognize heat-related illness, and place fans in common areas. But, as one incarcerated person admitted,“[O]nce the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the fans simply circulate hot air.” Despite these small preventive measures, it is not enough, particularly when most states do not require their correctional facilities to regulate their temperatures and implement a maximum temperature. Without this safeguard, temperatures inside our nation’s jails and prisons will continue to soar—placing incarcerated people at the will of the climate.

While there is no national statistic of how many incarcerated people have died from heat-related illnesses, the stories stay with us. From melting shoes in Arizona camps, to New Hampshire prisoners flooding cells to try and cool themselves down, to the videos of air conditioning-deprived incarcerated people screaming for help in St. Louis. These are all reminders of our desperate need to ensure that human dignity is protected inside prison and jails.