No extra fans, no ice, and stifling temperatures. That’s how dozens of family members, inmate and corrections officers describe conditions inside some of Virginia’s state prisons during this heatwave. It’s a stark contrast to the reports we are getting from the department that oversees the prisons. On Friday, the Department Of Corrections told us they were installing extra fans and had ice and water on hand to help inmates stay safe in the triple-digit temperatures at prisons that lack air conditioning.
From behind bars, Gerry Fimple tells his cousin the sweltering temperatures inside Buckingham Correctional Center are unbearable. “Sweating like crazy here. The sheets are soaking wet at night here.”
He goes on to tell his cousin that it feels like it is 110 degrees in his cell. When his cousin asks are there any extra fans? He replies, “They’re ain’t no extra fans.”
The inmates’ description echoing more than two dozen emails and calls that starting pouring into 8News over the weekend. A daughter writes they are “sleeping in puddles of their own sweat.” Another loved one tells us “no water, fans or ice has been given to prisoners.” And a wife writes, “I worry everyday that my husband is not going to make it.”
Most of the emails are from loved ones with relatives locked up in Augusta, Nottoway or Buckingham Correctional Centers. On Monday, 8News also received a letter from an inmate at Buckingham Correctional that disputes VDOC’s claims.
“From the time you come in there you’re sweating until the time you leave,” says Tommy Dix, a former corrections officer.
He’s worked inside the Buckingham prison and knows first hand how hot it can get in a cell.
“I have seen it in the summertime 115, 117,” he says.
Dix says it’s a safety concern for not only prisoners but that staff who works there too.
While the Department Of Corrections tells us they have extra fans, water and ice for inmates. Several relatives have written, “the ice machines in most pods are broken.” That doesn’t surprise Dix.
“They’re always broken,” he says.
He and relatives also told 8News if an inmate wants a fan for their cell, they have to buy it. And that’s if they have the money. Inmates tell us they are about 8 inches big and cost about $30.00. A relative writes to 8News and says, “They have committed crimes unfortunately, but they are still human.”
The Department of Corrections continues to maintain they have added fans and ice. DOC’S Director of Communications Lisa Kinney told 8News this today:
As we said over the weekend, 18 facilities designed and built without climate control air conditioning are still in use by the Department of Corrections. Within these facilities, additional fans haven been installed to keep housing units as comfortable as possible. Extra ice and water are available to help everyone remain hydrated in the elevated temperatures.”Lisa Kinney, VDOC Director of Communications
8News requested to tour the prisons without AC today. We also requested an interview with the DOC director. Both requests were denied.