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Reminder: It's 2019 and Most Florida Prisons Still Aren't Air-Conditioned

Summer officially began less than a week ago, but temperatures in South Florida are already somewhere between oppressively smothering and absolutely boiling. Yesterday, the high reached 98 degrees, a June 24 record in Miami.

Despite this, most Florida prison inmates spent the day locked in dorms that have no air-conditioning. That's right — it's 2019, and the vast majority of state prisons are still not fully air-conditioned.

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a nonpartisan advocate for reform, drew attention to the issue last week with a report showing Florida is among at least 13 states that lack universal AC inside correctional facilities. The organization says inmates exposed to extreme heat can experience dehydration and heat stroke, which can be deadly. Those on blood pressure medications or psychotropic drugs, who already have a hard time regulating their body temperatures, are particularly vulnerable.

"With air conditioning nearly universal in the South, air conditioning should not be considered a privilege or amenity, but rather a human right," writes PPI policy analyst Alexi Jones. "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."

While new prisons are designed with air-conditioning, most of Florida's existing facilities "were built prior to air-conditioning being commonplace but were designed to facilitate airflow that provides natural cooling," state Department of Corrections spokesman Rob Klepper wrote in an email to New Times. Housing units without AC have multiple fans and refrigerated water fountains, he said.

"Renovations would require significant funding as these renovations are prohibitively expensive in older buildings not designed for modern cooling systems," Klepper explained.

According to the Department of Corrections, each state institution is audited and complies with American Correctional Association standards for ventilation and HVAC systems. General population inmates have access to AC in buildings designated for chapel, programs, classification, medical care, and administration. And Klepper says special air-conditioned units are set aside for vulnerable inmates, including geriatric prisoners and those with mental and physical illnesses.

But the Prison Policy Initiative points out that almost any inmate can be susceptible to heat-related health problems.

"Prisons are mostly built from heat-retaining materials which can increase internal prison temperatures. Because of this, the temperatures inside prisons can often exceed outdoor temperatures," Jones writes. "Moreover, people in prison do not have the same cooling options that people on the outside do."

Currently, at least two petitions on Change.org ask the Florida Department of Corrections to install AC in prisons. They have a total of more than 1,200 signatures.

"If our prisons had basic AC then the violence would decrease, medical costs would decrease, and behavioral health would improve," one of the petitions states. "With the rate of climate change, our prisons are reaching incredible temperatures never reached in the past, it’s time to reform NOW."

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