Hot Prisons Pose Health Risks to Prisoners

Weather can kill, and prisoners are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather than most Americans. While some prison systems attempt to keep temperatures within a healthy range, a 2015 Columbia Law School report shows that many do not. Prisoners often live without air conditioning in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees and with a temperature/humidity index of 150 degrees.

Take the case of Robert Allen Webb, who died in a Texas prison in 2011 — one of 10 prisoners who died there during a month with 18 days above 100 degrees.  When Allen’s body was found, it was hot to the touch. He was suffering from hyperthermia, dangerous overheating that breaks down the self-cooling mechanisms of the human body such as sweating and dilating blood vessels.

While the Texas Administrative Code requires that county and municipal jails maintain “temperature levels between 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit,” Texas claims that air conditioning prisons would be prohibitively expensive.  Illinois has the same requirement; and while some areas of some prisons have air conditioning, many of the prisoners’ cells have only fans.

Illinois weather is usually not as hot as the weather in Texas, but cold weather, which we have plenty of, can also kill. In December of 2004, Charles Platcher, 31, who was serving a 40-year sentence in Menard Correctional Center, died from hypothermia — too low body temperature — on a day it was 26 degrees outside.  Because two valves that supplied heat to the prison’s medical unit were defective, the temperature dropped to 60 degrees in Platcher’s cell, and his body temperature to 84.7 degrees.  When the body’s core temperature gets that low, all the vitals start shutting down, so his breathing and heart just stopped.

The United States arrests and imprisons more people than any other country.  If you are incarcerated, even if you survive questionable prison conditions, having a criminal record presents a lifetime of obstacles to employment, housing, education and training, public assistance, financial empowerment, and more.

The experienced and compassionate Illinois criminal law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., believe that lengthy incarceration for those accused of crimes is not always the best answer. We offer aggressive representation for clients facing criminal charges.  We know the courts and the criminal justice system, and how to plea bargain, negotiate guidelines and recognize when to take your case to trial to assure the best possible outcome.  If you have been arrested or accused of a crime, we offer a free consultation to examine your individual situation and determine the course of action to best protect your rights and your liberty.

Call us today for your free consultation at 630-305-0222 or contact our team online.

Other Health Problems in Prison

In addition to hyper- and hypothermia, Illinois prisoners can and do die from lack of proper medical treatment.

Dr. Ronald Shansky, an internist, led an audit of eight Illinois prisons, along with another medical doctor, a registered nurse, and a dentist. In 2015, their final report concluded that Illinois “has been unable to meet minimal constitutional standards with regards to the adequacy of its health-care program for the population it serves.”

Medical care in the state’s prisons was found to be severely lacking. Facilities were short-staffed, and there were widespread slips in routine care.  There were “significant lapses of care” in 60 percent of inmate deaths from nonviolent causes. These varied from delays in testing and care to lack of follow-up and failures to refer patients to specialists.

Illinois faces major problems because its prison facilities are filled above capacity, at 147 percent; and a 2014 report puts its per capita funding for prisoner health care at 48th out of 50 states. Guards are often the first to deal with inmates’ medical complaints, so serious symptoms may not be recognized.

Illinois has outsourced most of its prison health services to Wexford Health Sources. Their most recent contract, signed in 2011, covers 10 years and pays out $1.36 billion

What Can Be Done?

According to the 2012 U.S. Shadow Report, the following are some suggestions that could alleviate the weather-related deaths in U.S. prisons:

  • Reduce the size of the incarcerated population — Whift from mass incarceration toward more effective and less costly strategies to reduce crime and recidivism.
  • Reduce susceptibility to heat stress — Acclimatize inmates to higher temperatures. Give the heat-sensitive and geriatric inmates priority for housing in units where healthy temperatures can be maintained.
  • Phase out the worst facilities that are obsolete, problematic, and cannot be adapted at reasonable cost.
  • Retrofit adaptable facilities by maximizing passive cooling, such as cool roofs, green roofs, and walls, awnings, and advanced thermal windows that reduce the need for air conditioning.
  • Location and design of new facilities should take into account future temperatures and other impacts of climate change.
  • Require adequate cooling of private facilities in future and renewal contracts with private entities that operate prisons or jails.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

If you are accused of a crime in Illinois, you want to do everything possible to keep out of prison. You cannot do it alone – you need to hire the best criminal defense attorney possible, who can advise you on your rights, influence charges against you, and may be able to keep you from being incarcerated.

The Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available, and work hand in hand with our clients throughout the criminal process to come up with an effective defense strategy. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

We are aggressive litigators, and we will work with you to answer all your questions and make sure you fully understand the facts surrounding your case.  We represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, and the greater Chicagoland area.

Delaying can only make your situation worse, so call 630-305-0222 today to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact our team online.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]