N4T Investigators: AC issues widespread across Arizona prisons

TUCSON (KVOA) – The Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry is addressing concerns over widespread issues of air conditioning systems going down at multiple prisons during record-breaking heat.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators first exposed AC problems at the federal prison complex in Tucson.

The HVAC system there was broken for several weeks but was fixed soon after the N4T Investigators started asking questions.

We spoke to two mothers of inmates that didn’t want to be identified, who were worried about the conditions their sons were living in.

“I know he’s in there for a reason but that is no reason to be treated the way they are being treated,” one mother told us. 

“These are human beings and need to be treated as such,” the other mother said.

After our investigation, the Bureau of Prisons said all the issues have been fixed.

The N4T Investigators started to hear from several other inmates and their families about issues at other prison facilities across the state, most operated by the ADCRR.

Valerie Lloyd lives in Tucson, her husband is doing time at the La Palma Correctional Facility near Eloy. She said her husband is a non-violent offender that will soon be released. She said the AC was out for at least six days during some of our hottest days. With his existing health problems, she worries about him being stuck in the heat.

“He’s on blood pressure medicine and a lot of people who are diabetic, I am a former nurse and can tell you that it’s not good to be in prolonged heat when you have health problems. It’s a dangerous heat and we wouldn’t even want our pets in that heat so why human beings?” she explained.

Donna Hamm, founder, and Executive Director of the inmate advocacy group Middle Ground, told us the AC issues are very widespread.

“In the last week we’ve heard from five or six different locations around the state, including from the private prison in Kingman, in Tucson, at the state-operated facility in Florence and Perryville,” she said.

Hamm believes the ADCRR has failed to do proper preventative maintenance on its facilities.

“They don’t do the preventative maintenance or preparation for the kind of load that’s going to be put on to their equipment,” she said.

The N4T Investigators reached out to ADCRR about the issues but didn’t receive a response back. NBC affiliate KPNX in Phoenix sat down with ADCRR’s Director Ryan Thornell who didn’t seem too concerned by the AC outages and didn’t feel it was an “unacceptable” problem.

“Our complexes are no different than the rest of the communities that are experiencing what’s an unprecedented heat wave. It’s understandable that parts fail and maintenance people have to come out and repair things just like it happens at houses, just like it happens in communities.,” he said.

After facing questions and community pressure, the ADCRR released the following steps it’s taking to address the issues:

“As Arizona continues to struggle with the unprecedented extreme heat being experienced by our communities, ADCRR is committed to doing everything possible to manage our facilities in the safest, coolest, and most efficient manner for our incarcerated populations as well as the ADCRR staff assigned to these institutions.

The following actions are being taken by ADCRR as a proactive approach to address inmate safety during excessive heat advisories: 

ADCRR security and medical personnel have increased their monitoring of inmate health and wellness. In addition, ADCRR staff are performing regular checks of the ambient temperature within housing units.

Our Department is also providing education to our officers, staff, and inmates on how to recognize early signs of heat-related issues and how best to notify the appropriate people of any concerns that may arise.

During this time, our officers are maintaining regular communication with our incarcerated population regarding the importance of personal care and the resources available to them during times of extreme heat.

To help everyone stay cool throughout the day, we are offering alternative options to outdoor activities during peak hours of excessive temperatures. 

When indoor temperatures are high, industrial fans or portable evaporative coolers are placed in affected areas to supplement existing cooling systems. In addition, incarcerated individuals have increased access to showers, and a consistent supply of ice water is always available.

Recognizing that we must do all we can to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety, ADCRR has also relaxed our grooming and dress standards during times when the temperature is high.

 And when a housing area has been impacted by a heat-related issue, air-conditioned Cooling Centers are available for incarcerated individuals to stay safe and cool until the heat-related issue is resolved. 

 

CONSIDER VIDEO VISITATION 

We know how important it is for everyone to stay in touch with our incarcerated population. So during this time of extreme heat, we would like to remind everyone that ADCRR has a free video visitation option available in lieu of in-person visitation.”

        

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