Inmates suffer from freezing temperatures in the winter, and scalding heat in the summer. The American penal system is the biggest in the world. We have the federal prison system, 50 state prison systems, and approximately 3,000 local jurisdictions, with their jails and prisons. Many jails and prisons, do not have regulations for providing adequate heat for the winter months, or protection, from excessive heat, during the summers.
Last month, incarcerated people in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, said that their cells were so cold they could see their breath(occurs around 45%). Last year, in Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility in Brooklyn , New York, the inmates endured a week, with very little heat, and zero temperature.
The Texas Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, reported, since 1998, that 19 deaths have occurred in Texas prisons, from heat related causes. Deceased inmates were found in Texas prison cells with temperatures varying from 115 degrees to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. One inmate, Alexander Togonidre, was found dead in his cell with a body temperature of 106 degrees. In 2011, ten Texas inmates died of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs, when the body temperature rises above 105 degrees.
Federal Judge Ellison severely criticized the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for violating the Eighth Amendment (prohibits cruel & unusual punishment) by exposing inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit south, a geriatric prison, to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, during the summer.
Alexi Jones, a policy analyst for the Prison Policy Initiative, reported a lack of federal, state, and local legislation for providing temperature control in jails and prisons. With the lack of legislation, the control of the temperature is up to the discretion of correction officials.
On a personal note, during my 15 months in the Maryland state prison system, I was incarcerated approximately 8 months in the Maryland Correctional Training Center, in Hagerstown, Maryland. During November and December, during the night, we had temperatures sometimes in the high 20’s–to low 30’s. We were especially freezing, since our window to the outside, was broken. When the temperature was freezing, I slept in my clothes, jacket, socks for my hands. The prison administration was not concerned. They would not fix the window, since it was scheduled for repair in December. The prison administration would not turn on the heat, until early December.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
― Nelson Mandela