By Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Connection
Florida lawmakers are being asked to use the winter months to swiftly install air conditioning in prison housing units before the return of scorching summer temperatures.
Ricky Dixon, secretary of the Department of Corrections, told a Senate committee 75% of Florida prison housing currently lacks air conditioning.
Denise Rock, executive director of the advocacy group Florida Cares Charity Corp., a nonprofit working with people who are incarcerated and their families, said she is convinced the sweltering conditions in state facilities ultimately are unsafe. Rock pointed out their concern is lawmakers simply do not see the urgency, or have the will to act, to fix the problem.
“I read someone had mentioned, ‘No one has died because of air conditioning.’ We’ve had lots of people pass out, by the way; we have records of lots of people passing out,” Rock countered. “You know, cooler temperatures cool people’s personality temperatures. That in itself is a reason to provide that air conditioning in those housing units.”
Previous legislative attempts to air-condition the prisons have been unsuccessful. Recently, Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, announced House Bill 181, mandating each state correctional institution provide a portable air conditioner or air-cooling system in every prison housing unit. A parallel measure, Senate Bill 296, has been filed by Sen. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville.
With climate change and record summer heat, Rock argued the time is now for lawmakers to find a permanent solution by retrofitting all existing housing facilities with portable air conditioning. She credited the Corrections Department for doing the best it can over the summer.
“Providing cold water and ice in the quads; allowing them to wear shorts in their housing units, which normally they’re not all allowed to; providing electrolyte packets,” Rock outlined. “But that still was not enough, especially with our aging population.”
Rock noted almost one-third of Florida’s prison population is age 50 and older, emphasizing the medical need for many to stay cool.
Dixon seemed to endorse the urgency for air conditioning. A consultant’s report to senators on Nov. 15 estimated the cost at about $582 million. However, Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Lee County, questioned whether the investment is worth it.
Florida News Connection is a bureau of the Public News Service.