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Map shows at least 44 states lack universal air conditioning in their prisons

A USA TODAY analysis found prisons in at least 44 states aren't fully air conditioned. As heat waves hit many states, the issue could become deadly.

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Nearly every state in the country does not have universal air conditioning in their prisons, a USA TODAY analysis found, illustrating a deadly problem for inmates and staff as climate change threatens to worsen conditions inside facilities. 

USA TODAY reviewed media reports and public information from all 50 states and contacted corrections departments where information was unavailable. The results showed at least 44 states do not universally air condition their prisons and only one – Tennessee – said it was fully air conditioned. USA TODAY's review is the most comprehensive data available about cooling systems in U.S. state prisons, as the information isn’t tracked.

The analysis went beyond a 2019 review by the nonprofit criminal justice research organization Prison Policy Initiative, which found prisons in 13 of the country’s hottest states, mostly in the South, aren’t fully air conditioned. 

USA TODAY found a slew of other states representing all regions of the country without universal air conditioning. While some states aren't typically known for oppressive heat, experts say they should be prepared for the realities of a changing climate. 

HEAT, CLIMATE CHANGE MAKING PRISONS 'TORTURE': Most states don't have universal air conditioning in prisons. Climate change, heat waves making things worse

Along with Tennessee, a handful of other states had nearly universal air conditioning or used other cooling methods such as swamp coolers, devices that don't work as well in humid climates and evaporate water to cool down the air, to control the temperature in all areas of their facilities. 

This database tracks only whether the state prisons have air conditioning, not whether the systems they have are in good working order. Media reports during hot summers have documented the sweltering conditions for inmates when air conditioning malfunctions or power goes out.

ALABAMA

ALABAMA

Four out of Alabama’s 26 prisons provide air conditioning to all prisoner dormitories, the Montgomery Advertiser, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported.

ALASKA

ALASKA

Alaska’s prisons are not air conditioned, according to Betsy Holley, a spokesperson from the Alaska Department of Corrections. “Our climate just really doesn’t call for it,” Holley said.

ARIZONA

ARIZONA

Arizona is in the process of installing air conditioning units in all its facilities in a four-year plan that will cost more than $47 million to complete, Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry spokesperson Judy Keane said. Currently, all facilities use either evaporative cooling methods or chilled water systems. Installation of air conditioning at several facilities has already been completed. 

All inmate areas “are set to specific air temps based on policy standards and all units across our 10 state complexes are monitored daily,” Keane said.

ARKANSAS

ARKANSAS

Arkansas Department of Corrections spokesperson Cindy Murphy said “96% or more” of inmate housing is air conditioned. The state’s policy calls for cell temperatures to stay between 74 and 78 degrees in the summer.

CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, all prisoner housing areas in the state’s prisons, which was 34 as of 2020, have some kind of cooling methods, most commonly evaporative coolers or fans. California prisons are not universally air conditioned.

The state’s heat mitigation plan calls for medically vulnerable prisoners to be moved to cooled areas when indoor temperatures exceed 90 degrees. When it’s hotter than 95 degrees inside, nurses are charged with checking on every inmate every two hours for heat illness symptoms.

COLORADO

COLORADO

All areas of Colorado Department of Corrections facilities have some form of climate control, which may vary by building and include air conditioning systems or swamp coolers, spokesperson Annie Skinner said.

CONNECTICUT

CONNECTICUT

Ten of the state’s 13 facilities have air conditioning throughout, two facilities are mostly air conditioned and one lacks an HVAC system, Andrius Banevicius, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Corrections, said.

DELAWARE

DELAWARE

All four of the state’s prisons have air conditioning in at least some of their housing units, said Delaware Department of Correction spokesperson Jason Miller. The two newer facilities, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, have air conditioning in 100% of the living areas. The two older facilities, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and Sussex Correctional Institution, have air conditioning in most housing areas.

In non-air conditioned units, inmates may have access to fans, ice and cold water, and additional showers, according to a social media post from the department.

FLORIDA

FLORIDA

About 24% of Florida state prison housing units are air conditioned, according to Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson Molly Best. Fans and exhaust systems are used in other housing areas.

GEORGIA

GEORGIA

A quarter of Georgia’s prisons are air conditioned, according to an August 2022 report from Georgia Public Broadcasting. The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

HAWAII

HAWAII

All four state prisons have air conditioning in medical and mental-health units, and most housing units are also air conditioned, according to Hawaii Department of Public Safety spokesperson Toni Schwartz.

IDAHO

IDAHO

Most housing units in Idaho state prisons are air conditioned, and swamp coolers are deployed in the rest, according to Idaho Department of Corrections spokesperson Jeff Ray.

ILLINOIS

ILLINOIS

Eight out of the state’s 33 prison facilities have air conditioning in inmate housing areas, according to Illinois Department of Corrections spokesperson Naomi Puzzello. The department provides ice, water and fans in extreme temperatures.

INDIANA

INDIANA

About 60% of state facilities have some air conditioning, “which covers different areas in different facilities,” Indiana Department of Corrections spokesperson Annie Goeller said.

IOWA

IOWA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY, but Iowa Public Radio reported in July 2021 the housing units in two state facilities – the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility and the Anamosa State Penitentiary – were not air conditioned.

KANSAS

KANSAS

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY, but NPR’s Kansas City station reported in October 2021 that a “handful” of Kansas Department of Corrections facilities don’t have air conditioning throughout their buildings, including dorms at the Winfield Correctional Facility.

KENTUCKY

KENTUCKY

All Kentucky state prisons are fully air conditioned with the exception of one 44-bed housing unit within the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women due to the age of the facility, according to Katherine Williams of the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

LOUISIANA

LOUISIANA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY, but The Advocate reported in August 2022 that air conditioning was “on the agenda” for its prisons. The Advocate also reported in 2019 that seven of the men’s dormitories and all the women’s dormitories are air conditioned.

MAINE

MAINE

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

MARYLAND

MARYLAND

Housing units in Maryland’s prisons are not air conditioned, according to Latoya Gray, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Buildings for services such as medical care, family visits, libraries and dining are air conditioned.

MASSACHUSETTS

MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts air conditions some areas within its facilities, but a July 2022 story from Boston’s WGBH said that the state’s prisons often aren’t air conditioned, and according to a 2018 state advisory found online, “many correctional facilities do not have air conditioning.”

MICHIGAN

MICHIGAN

Prisoners with medical or mental-health needs are housed in air conditioned units, and one prison has a “cool dome” next to a housing unit where prisoners can go when the heat index is above 90 degrees, but the rest of Michigan’s housing units aren’t air conditioned, according to Chris Gautz with the Michigan Department of Corrections. The non-air conditioned units have chilled air, other ventilation systems or large fans.

MINNESOTA

MINNESOTA

Two of the state’s facilities — Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights and Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee — are fully “climate controlled,” and the rest have at least some areas that are air conditioned, according to Minnesota Department of Corrections spokesperson Aaron Swanum.

MISSISSIPPI

MISSISSIPPI

The state is working on plans to air condition all its prisons, according to Leo Honeycutt of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. This summer, the department began installing air conditioning at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and had covered housing units for 70% of that prison’s population as of late August.

MISSOURI

MISSOURI

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY, but according to an August 2022 story from KOMU, seven of the state’s 18 prisons are fully air conditioned

MONTANA

MONTANA

None of the state’s prisons are air conditioned, according to Montana Department of Corrections spokesperson Carolynn Bright.

NEBRASKA

NEBRASKA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

NEVADA

NEVADA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Two of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections’ seven facilities that house prisoners do not have air conditioning in the housing units, according to Richelle Angeli, a spokesperson for the department.

NEW JERSEY

NEW JERSEY

About 3,500 of New Jersey’s 11,000 inmates are housed in units without air conditioning, according to a report released by the state’s corrections ombudsman. Three of the state’s prisons — Bayside State Prison, East Jersey State Prison, and Garden State Correctional Facility — had more than 75% of the state’s non-air conditioned beds. Three other prisons, including the state’s two largest, have fully air conditioned housing areas, and the remaining three prisons have partial air conditioning in housing units.

NEW MEXICO

NEW MEXICO

All areas of the state’s prisons, including housing, are climate controlled, but some use swamp coolers instead of air conditioning, according to Carmelina Hart, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Corrections Department.

NEW YORK

NEW YORK

Most living areas inside state prisons are not air conditioned and have only fans to cool them, according to the state’s corrections office. In written responses to the USA TODAY Network New York, the state’s correctional offices said air conditioning is provided in medical areas of New York’s correctional facilities, along with the housing unit and nursery at Bedford Hills, a prison for women. Fans are used on prison galleries and personal fans are available in the commissary, the department said.

NORTH CAROLINA

NORTH CAROLINA

Thirteen of the state’s 53 prisons are fully air conditioned, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesperson John M. R. Bull. In housing areas, 62% of beds are air conditioned. The state assembly approved $30 million to address air conditioning in prisons last fall, and Bull said five of the 40 prisons slated for expansion are in the design phase.

NORTH DAKOTA

NORTH DAKOTA

All housing units in North Dakota state prisons are air conditioned but there are some common areas in the facilities without air conditioning, North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Kayli Richards said.

OHIO

OHIO

Most inmate living areas within Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facilities are not air conditioned, spokesperson JoEllen Smith said. During hot weather, fans are provided in living areas and inmates get extra water and ice. “We do have plans to install new cooling systems at several locations,” Smith said.

OKLAHOMA

OKLAHOMA

Not all buildings within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are air conditioned, according to the department’s website.

OREGON

OREGON

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY, but The Oregonian reported in June 2021 that five of Oregon Department of Corrections’ 14 facilities don’t have air conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

PENNSYLVANIA

Air conditioning is not universal in Pennsylvania state prisons, according to a breakdown provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Fifteen of the state’s 24 facilities are mostly air conditioned, three facilities have partial air conditioning and six facilities have “very limited” air conditioning. The department plans to expand air conditioning in four facilities next summer, spokesperson Maria Bivens said.

RHODE ISLAND

RHODE ISLAND

Inmates housed in Rhode Island’s maximum-security unit, in a building constructed in 1878, do not have air conditioning, the Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported. There are a few air-conditioned units in areas where medications and computerized security equipment is located, the state's corrections department told the Providence Journal.

SOUTH CAROLINA

SOUTH CAROLINA

In South Carolina’s 21 prisons, there are 119 living areas with air conditioning and 12 without, according to spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Corrections Chrysti Shain. Industrial fans and cool misters are used in areas without air conditioning, and the department plans to expand air conditioning there once it has the funding.

SOUTH DAKOTA

SOUTH DAKOTA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

TENNESSEE

TENNESSEE

Tennessee prisons are universally air conditioned, Dorinda Carter with the Tennessee Department of Correction said.

TEXAS

TEXAS

A Texas A&M University study released in July found 30% of Texas facilities are fully air conditioned. Another 49% have partial air conditioning, and 21% have no air conditioning.

UTAH

UTAH

About 80% of the buildings in Utah’s two state prisons are air conditioned, according to Utah Department of Corrections spokesperson Kaitlin Felsted, and the rest of the buildings use evaporative cooling.

The newly constructed Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City uses evaporative cooling throughout when it is cooler and less humid, but is equipped with refrigerated air conditioning when the evaporative method isn’t sufficient. At Utah’s other prison, the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, half the buildings use air conditioning and half the buildings use evaporative cooling.

VERMONT

VERMONT

One of Vermont’s six state prison facilities — the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility — is fully air conditioned, and a “few” are partially air conditioned in areas such as the infirmaries, Erik Filkorn, a spokesperson for Vermont’s Buildings and General Service department, said.

VIRGINIA

VIRGINIA

About 23% of Virginia’s inmates are housed without air conditioning, according to a Virginia Department of Corrections press release.

WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON

Three-quarters of Washington’s 12 prison facilities have air conditioning in some or all areas. All the living units in three prisons are air conditioned, and some but not all living units in the other nine prisons have air conditioning, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Corrections said.

WEST VIRGINIA

WEST VIRGINIA

The state’s corrections department did not respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY.

WISCONSIN

WISCONSIN

The state’s facilities aren’t universally air conditioned, and the age of some buildings and various remodels have resulted in a “hodgepodge” of cooling systems, Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson John Beard said.

WYOMING

WYOMING

Most Wyoming Department of Corrections buildings have air conditioning, but some of the older buildings use other cooling systems, said spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Corrections Paul Martin.

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