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Death in California Prison Raise Alarms Amid Brutal Heatwave

An incarcerated person at California’s largest women’s prison has died amid a brutal heatwave that has left residents without air conditioning begging for relief and warning of dire consequences for their health, the Guardian reports. A woman in the Central California Women’s Facility, located in the Central Valley city of Chowchilla, died on Saturday as temperatures in the region climbed above 110F (43.3C). The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), an advocacy group, said it appeared the woman suffered a preventable heat death. The woman’s daughter told the Sacramento Bee that her mother had complained about the physical toll of the summer weather for years. Mary Xjimenez, a spokesperson for the state corrections department, said in an email that the woman was transported to a medical facility on Thursday and died on Saturday and that the “death appears to be the result of an ongoing medical condition and not heat related, but will be determined by the coroner’s office”. Tyson Pogue, the local sheriff-coroner, said it was too soon to say whether the death was due to heat and his office would conduct an autopsy.

News of the deaths comes as more than 146 million Americans were under extreme heat alerts across the nation, leaving people incarcerated in aging prison facilities without air conditioning particularly vulnerable. There have been reports of potentially fatal conditions inside jails and prisons during heatwaves across California and in Nevada, Illinois, Texas, Florida and other states this year.


The Chowchilla fatality has escalated fear and panic throughout the prison, advocates and incarcerated residents said. The cells in the overcrowded facility, which incarcerates more than 2,000 people, lack air conditioning, and residents said officials have failed to provide enough cold water and other supplies that would alleviate their suffering and reduce heatstroke risks. “Please help us, they’re not doing anything for us,” Trancita Ponce, a Chowchilla resident, said in a statement shared by CCWP. “There is hot air blowing inside of our rooms, I have a huge migraine and I feel sick and other girls are throwing up.” Another CCWF resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told the Guardian she’s been struggling with nausea and headaches, and that she had a thermometer in her area that recently showed it was 103F (39.4C). After residents’ complaints, the facility gave out ice water on Tuesday, but residents were only given two cups each, she said: “I’ve seen people passing out. This is inhumane … You feel like you’re dirt, like you’re nothing. If we were animals, they’d be treating us better.”

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