RICHMOND, Va. — After hearing about reports of problems in state correctional facilities during last week’s heatwave, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran says he was aware of the issues and took a tour of a center himself to see how the conditions were.
A Department of Corrections (VADOC) spokesperson says additional fans and ice machines were distributed to facilities across the state, but dozens of inmates and their loved ones reached out with concerns about lack of fans, air conditioning and ice to keep inmates cool.
“We monitored it,” Secretary Moran said. “As soon as the heat wave came, I immediately started thinking about those very issues because it does come up each year.”
There were also reports the prisons in Buckingham, Nottoway and Augusta do not currently have functioning air conditioning systems. Eighteen VADOC facilities were built before the 1990’s and do not have central air conditioning.
To see the conditions himself, Secretary Moran visited a corrections center in Powhatan Wednesday. He thought they were “adequate.”
“We will provide them any means we have — short of air conditioning units,” he explained. “Because to try to put in central air conditioning at a prison that’s already been constructed is really cost exorbitant.”
It also wouldn’t be safe to put air conditioning units into the windows of inmates’ rooms, Moran says. There also aren’t many windows in state prisons in those areas.
According to the Virginia Dept. of Health, there were 653 hospital visits for heat-related illnesses from July 16 to 22, 2019. The highest being 170 on Saturday July 20.
There were no official reports of heat injuries or emergencies in VADOC facilities during the heatwave, Secretary Moran says.
While Secretary Moran assures VADOC is doing all it can to prepare for when the weather warms up again, it appears they can only do so much when nearly half of the facilities are older.
“Short of air conditioning, we’re going to have to do and make do with that we have,” Secretary Moran said.We have requested a tour of a facility without air conditioning to see what the conditions are like. This story is still developing.