Many state inmates improvise to stay cool

Not all facilities have air conditioning

fans, cold liquids, ice used

July 27, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

For Maryland's incarcerated, the blistering summer days means improvising to cool inmates housed in aging prisons, many of which lack air conditioning.

The 27,702 inmates in state prisons escape the heat by hovering near commercial-size fans, chewing ice and drinking cold liquids.

"Basically, whenever we have extreme heat conditions, we provide the inmates with extra ice and fluids as needed," said Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Correction.

Doggett said inmates can buy fans for $25.29 through the commissary or from a private vendor. Prison medical centers, libraries, cafeterias and education rooms have air conditioning, she said.

She said that inmates showing heat-related problems are automatically referred to the medical unit for treatment.

Outdoor chores are canceled if the weather is deemed too dangerous, she said.

Archer Blackwell, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents correctional officers, said many city detention centers remained unbearably hot yesterday.

Blackwell said officers have told him that conditions in the city's Jail Industries Building on East Madison Street have been "deplorable," noting a lack of air conditioners and poor ventilation. He said temperatures there sometimes exceed 110.

The air conditioner at the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore was working yesterday and it was "quite chilly" there, said Barbara Cooper, a spokeswoman. Detainees were offered extra time outside.

The cooling system at the women's detention center in Baltimore, which has been criticized by the public defender's office as "inhumane" because of the heat, was working yesterday, Cooper said.

Last year, under a federal consent decree to improve conditions for female prisoners, the state approved plans to build a new detention center.

In the summer of 2002, several inmates at state prisons were treated for heat exhaustion and respiratory problems, and one died when his body temperature reached 107.4.

Advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit against the state for problems at the women's detention center, are watching as the heat continues.

Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, recalled the death of the inmate three years ago and said other inmates "are at great risk" now.

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