Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hotter 'n Hell

Constitutional Clash Over Air Conditioning:

Judges from Arizona to Mississippi to Wisconsin have declared over the years that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution forbids incarceration in decidedly hot or cold temperatures. Still, prison reform activists encounter deep resistance in their quest to cool the nation’s cellblocks.

“It’s almost impossible for courts to deny the constitutional violation because extreme heat undoubtedly exposes individuals to substantial risk of serious harm,” said Mercedes Montagnes, a lawyer for three inmates with health issues who challenged conditions on Louisiana’s death row. “Now what we’re grappling with is the remedy.”

Officials offer a range of justifications for the absence of air-conditioning and for their reliance on cold showers, plentiful liquids and fans to help prisoners manage in the heat. Some contend that cooling systems are prohibitively expensive to install, particularly in older facilities.
And articles like this usually appear every August, during the dog days, particularly when we've had a brutally hot summer as this one has been, asking the same questions: is it a violation of the 8th amendment not to provide A/C to inmates, especially when heat indices soar into the 90's and above inside prison cells?

The most obvious answer, if you've ever spent any time at all below the Mason-Dixon line between May and September, is hell yes. 

But the get-tough types still cling to the notion that giving inmates a/c, even minimal amounts to get the temperature into the low 80's, is a dern travesty, and what's next, giving them a dang country club jail or something?
In places like Louisiana and Texas, sweltering states where elected officials cherish tough-on-crime credentials, it is politically poisonous to be perceived as coddling prisoners. And many officials simply say that temperatures are not anywhere near as dire as prisoners and their lawyers claim.

“For the first 20 years of my life, I lived in a house with no air-conditioning,” said Jim Willett, the director of the Texas Prison Museum and a former warden at the state’s death house. “I just have a hard time sympathizing with anybody over air-conditioning.”

In Jefferson Davis Parish and elsewhere, plenty of people wonder why climate control is even before the courts. Prisoners are serving punishments and do not merit, as people here repeatedly put it, “a country club jail.”  
Lord. Just read those couple of paragraphs again...the "Jefferson Davis" parish...the "I never had no a/c, why should them inmates have it" revisionist history...etc. 

Depriving inmates of air-conditioning is another relic of the get tough 80's and 90's, when most prisons and jails, which are functioning in the U.S. today, were built. The notion that retrofitting these relatively modern institutions is "cost prohibitive" is also absurd, given the billions we routinely spend on corrections annually in the U.S. anyway.

But again, it's not about the constitution, dollars and cents, or plain old sense for that matter. It's all about puttin' a hurtin' on them inmates, making them uncomfortable, and learnin' them a lesson.
But after her release, Ms. Bourque, 25, described an environment where inmates found little relief.

“It’s hot as hell,” she said. “The church ladies come over there, and I told her that. And she was like, ‘No, I believe hell is hotter.’ And I was like, ‘It’s just an expression. It’s hot as hell.’”
Image result for dana carvey church lady 
Ha ha! "Could it be Satan? I'm sure hell is hotter, missy." 

Left out of the article is the perspective of the corrections officers and jailers who have to carry out their tough-talking bosses wishes. Can you imagine going to work every day where there was no a/c? And then having to deal with angry, disoriented, agitated inmates, desperate for some kind of relief?

Talk to anyone who actually works in corrections and they'll tell you: an air-conditioned prison or jail facility not only means a more compliant and easier to deal with inmate, it makes for a safer, more sane and tolerable work environment as well.  

But again, don't let a few facts get in the way. When the politics of punishment trumps the practicality of punishment, common sense loses every single time.

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