Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon told state lawmakers Wednesday that 75 percent of all housing units in Florida’s corrections system do not have air-conditioning, Florida Phoenix reports. There don’t seem to be immediate solutions. Dixon explained current mitigation efforts on the issue, such as authorizing inmates to be allowed to wear T-shirts and shorts, providing inmates with hydration packets, and having medical staff educate inmates on heat illness prevention. It was a major challenge this summer for the inmates and staff, Dixon said. “It’s been suggested that we air condition our current dorms,” he told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice. “I’m not opposed to that, but doing so is extremely expensive.” The department has hired the global auditing firm of KPMG to review the air conditioning situation.
The lack of A/C is hardly unique to Florida. USA Today reported last year that prisons in at least 44 states aren’t fully air-conditioned. “The absence of air conditioning in prisons and jails is a disaster waiting to happen,” said David Fathi of the ACLU National Prison Project. “This is not an issue of comfort or luxury, it is an issue of life and death. … The decision not to air condition these facilities is essentially a decision to let people die.” Last summer the Florida Department of Corrections began a pilot project at Lowell Correctional Institution, the largest women’s prison in the state, by testing three portable evaporative coolers as a low-cost alternative to try to beat the heat. That effort was led by Gainesville Democratic House member Yvonne Hayes Hinson and inmate advocate Connie Edson. “A solution has been brought to it,” Edson told lawmakers on Wednesday, referring to the pilot program. “Whether it’s the solution for the older facilities? No. But there is a solution out there. With your funding, we can find the solution.” Dixon appeared to dismiss the coolers as any type of long-term alternative, noting that the noise and moisture bothered the inmate population.