Many prisons in the South lack air conditioning and this creates life-threatening conditions in heat spells, the Prison Policy Initiative reports.
“The lack of air conditioning in Southern prisons creates unsafe — even lethal –conditions,” the report stated. “Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause dehydration and heat stroke, both of which can be fatal.”
Some courts have ruled that prison standards on incarcerating people in extreme cold or heat violates prisoners’ constitutional 8th Amendment rights. Those states include Arizona, Mississippi and Wisconsin.
Ninety-five percent of households in the South have air conditioning, but almost none of southern state prisons do.
“The lack of air conditioning in Southern prisons creates unsafe — even lethal –conditions”
“People outside of prison who experience extreme heat have the options that prisoners lack — they can take a cool shower, drink water, move into the shade, or go to a place that is air conditioned,” quoted Prison Legal News in a 2018 article. “For prisoners, those options are generally unavailable.”
Heat related illnesses can be exacerbated by certain prescribed medications. These are but not limited to Zoloft, Cymbalta, Prozac, and Lexapro, (do not stop taking any medication with- out your doctors permission). There are also certain medical conditions that can lead to heat related illnesses such as diabetes, and obesity. Heat has a greater effect on those that are older. This demographic has an increased risk of cardiovascular, and respiratory illnesses.
“Everyone understands that if you leave a child in a car on a hot day, there’s a serious risk this child could be injured or die,” said ACLU Director David Fathi to The Intercept. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we leave a prisoner locked in cells when the heat and humidity climb beyond a certain level.”
Most prisons are constructed from heat retaining materials such as concrete and rebar. This can contribute to higher temperatures inside prison cells.
A fan could possible make a difference in regulating heat, but a fan in a Texas prison commissary costs $20, an astronomical fee when prisoners in Texas are not paid for their labor.
“It routinely feels as if one’s sitting in a convection oven being slowly cooked alive,” said Benny Hernandez, a Texas prisoner. “There is no respite from the agony that the heat in Texas prisons inflicts.”
Prison Policy Initiative believes air conditioning should be a human right and not an amenity or privilege. When it’s withheld, it can subject people to conditions that can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In some cases, death sentences, according to the article.