Baking Behind Bars: America’s Deadly Heatwave Crisis in Prisons

There’s a crisis unfolding in America’s prisons – one that won’t be solved easily. Here are the details.

The Heat Crisis in American Prisons

Image Credit: Shutterstock / FOTOKITA

A new study published in Nature has exposed the tough reality faced by countless inmates across the United States. As temperatures soar and climate change begins hitting the country hard, our nation’s prisons and jails are becoming ovens – leaving those behind bars to battle sometimes lethal heat conditions.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Image Credit: Shutterstock / PanuShot

This study, which examined over 4,000 prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities across the United States, has revealed a trend that gets more severe as the years go on.

The Hidden Cost of Cheap Land

Image Credit: Shutterstock / txking

In the past, prisons have typically been built in some of the hottest and driest places in the country. We’re talking isolated deserts and swampy areas where land is empty and dirt cheap because nobody lives there. 

The Heat is On

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Marian Weyo

While it makes sense from a financial point of view, those areas also happen to be some of the worst affected by rising global temperatures.

A Thousand Facilities and Counting

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jirapong Manustrong

The study found that since the 1980s, more than 1000 correctional facilities have seen an increase in the number of hot days per year – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Two Months of Heat Hell

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Skyward Kick Productions

The real scoop was that a massive 118 prisons and jails are seeing an average of 75 days or more each year with temperatures that blow past the safety limits set by health experts. 

The Reality

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ann Kosolapova

That’s more than two months of heat hell for inmates, with the total number of people affected estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

Measuring the Unbearable

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Pheelings media

To measure how much heat people were exposed to, researchers used a standard called the wet bulb globe temperature, which the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) uses. 

NIOSH Guidelines

Image Credit: Shutterstock / SFIO CRACHO

This method looks at factors like humidity and airflow to gauge how much heat stress affects the body. NIOSH guidelines say that for workers doing light to moderate physical work, the safest maximum temperature is 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two States, Half the Problem

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nick Fox

The worst offenders are right where you’d expect them to be – in the sweltering South. Two states alone account for a huge 52% of all hazardous heat day exposure in the entire country – Texas and Florida. 

A Disproportionate Danger

Image Credit: Shutterstock / kittirat roekburi

To put it into perspective these prisons only house 12% of America’s prison population, yet they’re experiencing more than half of all extreme heat exposures in the country.

The Hottest of the Hot

Image Credit: Pexels / RDNE Stock project

Out of all jails and prisons in the United States, researchers found the Starr County Jail in Rio Grande, Texas, was the hottest. It had the most days per year on average from 2016 to 2020 where the maximum wet bulb globe temperature exceeded 82.4°F – an average of 126.2 days per year. This jail held around 250 people in 2018.

Cool Solutions in Hot Demand

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Butsaya

You would think that with all this extreme heat, prisons would be scrambling to install air conditioning – but the truth is a long way off. None of the four states with the highest heat exposure – Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana – provide universal access to AC in their state-run prisons. 

No Escape

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Frame Stock Footage

Inmates have no way to avoid the heat and are being left to quite literally bake in their cells; as the study’s co-author, Robbie Parks, an environmental scientist at Columbia University, puts it, “People are dying without any kind of recourse to cooling.”

Mental Health on the Hot Seat

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Skyward Kick Productions

The report found that inmates with mental health issues are at even greater risk than the general prison population. Why? Well, many psychiatric medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat, meaning these inmates heat up quicker and store heat for longer. 

A Ticking Time Bomb

Image Credit: Shutterstock / smolaw

With 43% of state prisoners reporting a history of mental health problems, experts are worried that this could soon potentially become a huge catastrophe.

More Inmates, More Heat

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

The study also found that over the last 40 years, the number of people in U.S. prisons has grown 500%. More inmates are aging behind bars, with about 14% facing life sentences. All this means that more and more prisoners are becoming increasingly vulnerable to extreme heat conditions.

The Next Steps

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Kinek00

So, what’s next? Researchers aren’t stopping here – they’re gearing up to dive even deeper, mapping out indoor cooling systems and heat-related deaths in prisons nationwide. 

Looking For Solutions

Image Credit: Shutterstock / L.O.N Dslr Camera

As Parks explains, “We want to know what we can modify in the environments of prisons and jails as they exist currently to actually alleviate the potential indoor heat risk.”

The Heat Goes On

Image Credit: Shutterstock / OFFFSTOCK

As climate change gets worse, things in America’s prisons are likely to get even tougher unless the government does something big to fix it.

Oil Dumping Scandal Rocks Ships Heading to New Orleans

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Aerial-motion

Two shipping companies have been fined after knowingly hiding a large oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean. Oil Dumping Scandal Rocks Ships Heading to New Orleans

20 Eye-Opening Realities Facing Retiring Baby Boomers

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jack Frog

As Baby Boomers approach retirement, the promise of leisure and security often seems unattainable. This generation faces unique challenges that could redefine retirement. Here’s a stark look at the realities shaping their outlook. 20 Eye-Opening Realities Facing Retiring Baby Boomers

Retail Apocalypse: Massive Closures Sweep Across U.S. Brands

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tada Images

Stores across the U.S. are closing at unprecedented levels, according to new research from advisory firm Coresight Research. Read on for more information about the impact this could have on you and your communities. Retail Apocalypse: Massive Closures Sweep Across U.S. Brands

The post Baking Behind Bars: America’s Deadly Heatwave Crisis in Prisons first appeared on EcoHugo.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Skyward Kick Productions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *