A heat index—meaning how hot it feels—of 103 can cause heat stroke. In a piece for Fast Company, Kristin Toussaint explains that a 2014 study out of Texas found the heat index in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities could hit 149 degrees. "They’re built with cement and metal, so basically, those are the same things you build an oven out of," Amite Dominick, the head of Texas Prisons Community Advocates, tells Toussaint. "They’re literally baking in there." Though Toussaint zeroes in on Texas, her point is broader: America's prisons in general have a problem with heat—a problem that will only continue to worsen as temperatures rise, and one that impacts not just inmates but also the Americans who staff the facilities.
As she puts it, "As heat gets more extreme, prison facilities across the country are underprepared for this threat, leaving an already vulnerable community even more exposed to the dangerous effects of climate change." For instance, about 20% of TDCJ facilities have no air-conditioning in the housing area. It gets so bad that Dominick says inmates will clog and overflow their toilets so they can lie down and cool themselves in the water. As for what's to be done, getting the funding approved for air-conditioning is an obvious answer, but there are others, like remodeling facilities to allow for passive cooling (like transforming the roof into a green roof) and detailing maximum allowable temperatures in private prison contracts. Others say reducing our prison population would be a huge step, as fewer bodies mean less heat is generated. But as one 2015 paper on the problem noted, "the hour is already late." (Read the full article for much more.)