As most people, I was sympathetic to the Brooklyn inmates, who did not have heat, during the most frigid weather this past January. However, you can be assured at any given day, somewhere in the United States, inmates are suffering from extreme cold, or excessive heat in their cells.
The New York Times reported that the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility’s, electrictrical problems started about January 5. The total loss of heat began the week of January 20th (during a national winter crisis). The detention center holds close to 1700 inmates. The majority of the inmates have not yet been tried, or sentenced. A small number of inmates are serving short sentences, for minor offenses. A number of the prisoners have medical conditions.
During this time, the temperatures, at night, reached the teens. The inmates sat in dark cells, freezing. Power was fully restored on February 4th, after local and national protests.
Personally, while serving time at a prison in western Maryland, during an early cold spell, during late November, of 2010, my cell was without heat. To make it worse, the cell’s window was broken in various places. At night, I went to sleep freezing, (temperature low 20’s),fully dressed including jacket, with socks on my hands. The prison administration would not repair the window, since it was scheduled for repair in December. The prison administration would not turn on the heat for our unit, because the heat was scheduled to start sometime in December. Despite our many complaints, we froze for almost 4 weeks.
The Brooklyn inmates were lucky, since none died. In Texas, inmates have died during the summers from excessive heat. In a groundbreaking decision in 2017, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled that Texas state corrections were aware of the dangerous and lethal heat risks in their prisons and that at least 23 men in Texas prisons have died from extreme heat in the last 20 years. Dead inmates were found in prison cells with temperatures varying from 115 degrees to 149 degrees Fahrenheit.
One Texas inmate, Alexander Togonidre, was found dead in his cell with a body temperature of 106 degrees. In 2011, ten Texas inmates died of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia occurs, when the body temperature rises above 105 degrees.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
― Nelson Mandela