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Texas, Florida Prisoners Face Risk of Increasingly Deadly Heat

Deadly heat is threatening the lives of the aging incarcerated population, who are trapped in increasingly hot and humid conditions as the climate emergency escalates, new research has found. People incarcerated in state-run facilities in Texas and Florida are the most exposed to dangerous conditions, reports the Guardian. Hazardous heat refers to the number of days a year when the indoor maximum wet bulb globe temperature exceeds 82F – the safe humid-heat threshold set by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In facilities where detainees were exposed to at least one hazardous day a year, the average number of hot-humid days jumped from 77 to 100 a year in four decades, according to the study in Nature Sustainability. “When temperatures rise, prisoners are sitting ducks, utterly powerless to protect themselves from lethal levels of heat and humidity. Building a prison without climate control is like building a prison without fire exits – it’s an invitation to disaster,” said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The current threat to the incarcerated population risk is likely even greater than the analysis suggests given that the past three summers have been among the hottest on record. America’s incarcerated population is at high risk of health-related morbidity and mortality due to their physical confinement, age, high rates of chronic physical and mental illness, and a general lack of concern about their welfare by lawmakers. Researchers also found that detention facilities – jails, prisons, work camps, and migrant detention centers – are often built in the least hospitable places, where there is little cooling vegetation and communities have limited political power to resist. In addition, concrete structures trap heat, making them harder to cool including at night when the body cannot recuperate until the temperature drops to 80F. “Prisons and other detention facilities are located in disproportionately hotter places because the idea of incarcerated people suffering from heat fits the retribution and punishment ethos of the U.S. system,” said co-author Robbie Parks, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University.


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