Is air-conditioning a human right? This is a question that is coming to courts increasingly often, in light of the ongoing issues with hot and humid prisons.
The aging inmate population is part of this problem. In many jail cells, temperatures in the non-air conditioned, no-windows environment can reach 100 degrees or even higher. For some people, this might simply be uncomfortable. For the growing number of prisoners who suffer from conditions like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, though, extreme heat exposure can lead to long-term health issues, and even death.
This was the likely cause of death in the case of Jerome Murdough, who died in his Rikers Island jail cell earlier this year. Even though it was February, the temperatures in his cell were at least 100 degrees when it happened.
Advocates for prison air conditioning standards understand, of course, that to some people this might seem like an unnecessary luxury for the incarcerated: many people in the U.S., after all, have to forego installing air conditioning for their own homes. Prisoners’ rights lawyer Mercedes Montagnes, though, argues that prisoners have no escape from the heat, unlike everyone else. When it comes to the un-incarcerated, “Those individuals have the ability to go to a freezer, to get cold water, to go to a mall, to go to a movie theater … to take action in order to mitigate the effect of the heat on them” — all things a prisoner cannot do.
Many states are currently facing lawsuits and court orders regarding their prison facility temperatures. Even in high-temperature states like Texas, only 550 of the 150,000 state prison beds have air conditioning. “Business Quote about how much it will cost to install an air conditioner at a prison, or whatever.”
“There should be a maximum temperature allowed. If air conditioning is not possible, fans should be provided at the least,” says Chrisi Cummings, Office Manager at Vitt Heating & A/C Co.
In most cases, prison rights advocates aren’t arguing for what would normally comprise comfortable room temperature, which is typically around 70 degrees. Montagnes, for example, just asks that the heat index in Louisiana not go above 88 degrees. Even though a judge agreed with her, the state is currently appealing the order to install air conditioning in its prisons.