As an unprecedented heatwave grips the United States, with temperatures soaring to 45.5C (114F) in places like Arizona’s capital, Phoenix, attention is turning to the dire conditions faced by inmates in some of the country’s prisons.
Calvin Johnson, who spent 37 years in a Texas state prison, including 37 summers enduring scorching heat without air conditioning, shares harrowing tales of survival and desperation to stay cool.
Incarcerated during sweltering summers, Johnson had to rely on makeshift methods to beat the heat.
He recalls clogging the commode and letting the water run to create a makeshift pool, placing his clothes across it to lie in the cool water.
Such tactics were the only means to find relief, as the prison’s access to fans and ice was scarce.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s experience is not an isolated case. A study published in Plos One found that summertime mortality rates in US state and private prisons increased by 5.2% for every 10F rise in temperature above historical averages.
Shockingly, some US states, including Texas and Arizona, lack universal air conditioning in prisons, creating potentially deadly conditions.
In Texas, where soaring temperatures have led to several recent prisoner deaths, only 31 out of 100 prisons have full air conditioning, while 14 have no cooling at all.
This lack of adequate cooling systems has drawn criticism and calls for reform, as reports reveal inmates suffering from heat-related illnesses and, tragically, even death.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice defends its practices, stating that fans are strategically placed, inmates have access to ice and water, and respite areas with air conditioning are available when needed.
However, the situation has sparked ongoing scrutiny, with researchers attributing 13% of deaths in Texas prisons without universal air conditioning to extreme heat days between 2001 and 2019.
Urgent Call for Humane Conditions Amid Heat-Related Deaths
As the heatwave continues, more cities and counties brace themselves for the sweltering conditions, particularly those in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where at least 12 heat-related deaths have been reported since April.
Efforts to provide relief, such as heat response programs and hydration stations, are being implemented to protect vulnerable populations, including the homeless.
The tragic realities faced by inmates like Calvin Johnson underscore the urgent need for systemic change and humane conditions in US prisons.
As the country grapples with the escalating impacts of climate change, ensuring the well-being of those in custody becomes a pressing matter that cannot be ignored.