Nashville heat wave causes air conditioning outages at women's prison
Dave Boucher, USA TODAY NETWORK - TennesseePublished 4:21 p.m. CT July 21, 2017
Air conditioning at a Nashville women's prison continues to fail amid an ongoing heat wave throughout the city and state.
Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Neysa Taylor blamed high temperatures for air conditioning outages at the Tennessee Prison for Women, a facility home to 782 inmates in northwest Nashville.
"While TPFW has (air conditioning) throughout the compound, the recent extremely high temperatures have been taxing our HVAC system. This has caused short-term intermittent outages that are being monitored and corrected by our maintenance staff," Taylor said in an email Friday afternoon.
"These outages have not caused any disruptions to the operation of the facility. During the brief periods when an outage occurs, TPFW is equipped with fans to help combat the heat until maintenance arrives."
Taylor did not respond to questions as to how long the “short-term intermittent outages” last, how frequently they occur and when they started.
For the month of June, the average high temperature was 87 degrees in Nashville. That's the lowest average high temperature for at least the past decade, said Brittney Whitehead, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville.
But this week the NWS issued a heat advisory for most of Middle Tennessee, as temperatures flirt with 100 degrees but humidity pushes the "feels like" temperature closer to 105 degrees in Nashville, Whitehead said.
When temperatures rise inside prisons, so do health and safety concerns, said Jeannie Alexander, a former prison chaplain who now runs the No Exceptions Prison Collective advocacy organization.
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"We're already in a tense environment with prisons. Any time you're in that type of tense environment, I worry about violence, you worry about tempers," Alexander said.
"Everybody understands that as the summer goes on and wears on and it gets hotter inside, tempers seem to go up. And we want everyone to be safe."
Inmates who are elderly or taking medications like Xanax, and those in solitary confinement are specifically susceptible to high temperatures, said Alex Friedmann, a former inmate who is now the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News.
In prison, there are few remedies for heat. But those options are even more limited for these inmates, Friedmann said.
"They can't open a window to get some breeze. There are no open windows," Friedmann said, referring to inmates in solitary confinement.
Air conditioning issues are not new for prisons. No prisons in Florida have air conditioning, but recent Miami Herald articles have chronicled how heat issues and other problems — like denying inmates toilet paper — lead to unsuitable living conditions.
Most Texas prisons also don't have air conditioning, but a federal judge recently ordered it be provided for medically-sensitive inmates, according to the Texas Tribune.
"It is part of prison security: You want to keep all of your required maintenance up and running," Friedmann said.