by Matt Clarke
Since February 2015, a settlement and stipulation in Parsons v. Ryan has required the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to monitor and log indoor temperatures at state prisons. According to the Phoenix New Times, not only do the logs show excessive summer heat – as high as 119 degrees in some facilities – other logs have signs they were falsified by prison officials.
Every unit at ASPC-Douglas, near the border with Mexico, showed triple-digit indoor temperatures over the July 4, 2017 weekend. The log for the Gila Unit indicated it was 119 degrees at 16:00 on June 17. At the same time, the Papago Unit recorded 109 degrees. The next day, Gila recorded 113 degrees at 16:00, while both the Mohave Unit and the CDU reported 109 degrees, and the Papago Unit showed 104 degrees.
During a heat wave in June 2017, the women’s prison in Perryville recorded triple-digit indoor temperatures while the temperature inside the medical holding enclosures at the prison in Stafford hit 100 degrees.
“Obviously, these are very dangerous temperatures for anybody,” stated David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which represents Arizona prisoners in the Parsons litigation. He was even more concerned about heat-sensitive prisoners.
Parsons requires the ADC to move prisoners taking medications that interfere with heat regulation, or who have a medical condition that makes them especially sensitive to heat, to cooler units. The stipulation states that heat-sensitive prisoners are to be housed at temperatures of 85 degrees or lower. However, neither the ACLU nor the Phoenix New Times has been able to determine whether any prisoners were moved to climate-controlled units since the Parsons stipulation went into effect.
The ADC has simply stonewalled requests for information.
“We need to find out if they have actually ever transferred a prisoner to a unit where the temperature is 85 degrees or less,” said Fathi. “That’s what they’re required to do, but we don’t even know if they’ve ever done it.”
He also noted that some of the ADC’s indoor temperature logs were clearly fabricated. On August 25, 2017, ADC attorneys emailed Fathi logs from the Perryville prison. Included were temperature readings for August 26-31, up to six days in the future. The temperatures logged for those days ranged from 82 to 92 degrees – significantly cooler than the actual temperatures subsequently reported at other prisons for that time period.
“Obviously, those temperatures were made up,” Fathi noted. “What we don’t know is how widespread the practice is – and what the actual temperature was.”
Equally bad, at the state prison in Phoenix – which is designated as a mental health facility where many prisoners are taking psychotropic medications that interfere with heat regulation – the temperatures haven’t been logged at all.
Excessive temperatures can cause permanent brain injury or even death, and the problem is expected to get worse. Phoenix currently experiences an average of 16 days a year with temperatures that exceed 110 degrees. That is projected to increase to 53 days a year by 2050.
On June 22, 2018, the district court overseeing the Parsons settlement held the ADC in civil contempt for the department’s failure to comply with the terms of the agreement related to the provision of medical care to prisoners, and imposed $1.445 million in fines. The contempt ruling will be reported in greater detail in a future issue of PLN. See: Parsons v. Ryan, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00601-DKD.
As recently covered in PLN, high temperatures in prisons and jails remain a significant problem, particularly in southern states, and have resulted in dozens of prisoner deaths and related litigation. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.1].
Sources: www.phoenixnewtimes.com, www.motherjones.com, www.aclu.org
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Related legal case
Parsons v. Ryan
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00601-DKD|