Prisoners, in general, should not be sitting in solitary confinement. It's a form of torture. But they absolutely should not be sitting in solitary during a historic Miami heat wave, when the heat index says it feels hotter than 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, when the air conditioning failed Wednesday at the Federal Correctional Institution, Miami — a federal prison in south Miami-Dade County — 30 prisoners had to be moved from the "special housing unit" (SHU), where they were being held in solitary confinement. The federal Bureau of Prisons moved the inmates to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami.
"The AC unit in FCI Miami's SHU unit ceased functioning on June 26, 2019," a BOP spokesperson confirmed via email. "Thirty inmates were moved from that unit to FDC Miami until repairs can be completed."
On Wednesday, temperature records from Miami International Aiport show the area hit 95 degrees, a record high for that day, per the Weather Channel.
FCI Miami has long faced criticism that the structure is crumbling and falling apart. In July 2018, New Times obtained records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which showed the prison had been cited for a laundry list of alleged safety and health violations. OSHA representatives toured the prison in 2017 and 2018 and said they found mold growing on walls in multiple rooms, leaking ceilings, workers who were not given frequent-enough bathroom breaks, and other employees lacking basic security equipment. OSHA found multiple instances in which inmates with violent records were sent to FCI Miami — a low-security prison where guards lack the proper training to care for people with histories of violence or to properly protect themselves. OSHA also found female correctional officers had been sexually assaulted by inmates who'd incorrectly been transferred to the low-security facility.
But the records also suggested the federal government simply wasn't taking basic care of the facility. OSHA noted it had cited FCI Miami repeatedly for mold issues.
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Last year, New Times also reported that the feds did not evacuate FCI Miami during 2017's Hurricane Irma. Instead, the government sent extra guards down to the facility from Central Florida and Atlanta and forced guards and inmates alike to ride out the storm there. Guards say the power failed, portions of the prison flooded, and the correctional officers were trapped in the prison's solitary confinement cells, which were covered in mold, urine, and feces.
While some may see air conditioning as a luxury for prisoners, it's actually vital for basic safety in the sweltering Miami summer. On Tuesday, New Times wrote about a report from the nonprofit Prison Policy Institute, which noted that most state-level Florida prisons still don't have universal air conditioning.
"With air conditioning nearly universal in the South, air conditioning should not be considered a privilege or amenity, but rather a human right," PPI policy analyst Alexi Jones wrote. "States and counties that deny air conditioning to incarcerated people should understand that, far from withholding a 'luxury,' they are subjecting people to cruel and unusual punishments, and even handing out death sentences."