Temperatures inside tents at Arizona State Prison Complex at Florence hit 106 degrees, but indoor units weren't much cooler.EXPAND
Temperatures inside tents at Arizona State Prison Complex at Florence hit 106 degrees, but indoor units weren't much cooler.
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Some Arizona Prisons Report Temps Up to 113; Others May Be Fudging Logs

It's been a long, hot summer inside Arizona prisons.

Temperature logs submitted by the Arizona Department of Corrections as part of the Parsons v. Ryan lawsuit show that daytime indoor temperatures frequently exceeded 100 degrees in June, July, and August, creating inhumane conditions for both prisoners and staff.

And at least one facility may not have been entirely honest about the conditions, producing logs that showed temperatures in the 80s — but had been filled out several days in advance.

At the state prison in Douglas, near the U.S.-Mexico border, every unit reported triple-digit indoor temperatures over the July 4 weekend. In late June, the temperature inside several units reached 113 degrees.

Inmates in Florence's tent city coped with 106-degree heat in July. Indoor cell blocks didn't offer much respite, with temperatures topping 103 degrees.

At the women's prison in Perryville, where inmates recently went on strike, indoor temperatures topped 100 degrees during the June heatwave.

Throughout the summer, temperatures inside the state prison in Douglas have topped 100 degrees.
Throughout the summer, temperatures inside the state prison in Douglas have topped 100 degrees.
Court record

During that same heatwave, which led American Airlines to cancel flights out of Phoenix, temperatures inside medical holding enclosures at the state prison in Safford hit 110 degrees.

"Obviously, those are very dangerous temperatures for anybody," said David Fathi, an attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project, which represents Arizona inmates in the lawsuit.

And for inmates taking psychotropic medications, including anti-psychotics or antidepressants, that kind of heat could be fatal. (Complications from heat exposure notoriously led to the death of Marcia Powell, a mentally ill inmate who was locked in an outdoor cage at the state prison in Perryville in 2009.)

Technically, the Parsons v. Ryan stipulation says that those inmates are supposed to be moved to units where the temperature is 85 degrees or cooler. But it's unclear whether that's actually happening.

The Arizona Department of Corrections didn't respond to a request from Phoenix New Times seeking information about how many inmates had been moved or transferred due to the extreme heat this summer.

And the ACLU hasn't been able to get any answers, either.

"We need to find out if they have actually ever transferred a prisoner to a unit where the temperature is 85 degrees or less," Fathi said. "That’s what they’re required to do, but we don’t know if they’ve ever done it in the two-and-half years of the stipulation."

Equally concerning is the fact that some of the temperature logs submitted by ADC staff contain information that can't possibly be true. For instance, employees at the Florence complex noted temperatures of 897 degrees in one unit. Next door at the Eyman prison, staff logged temperatures of 7, 8, and 9 degrees.

At other facilities — including the state prison in Phoenix, which is designated as a mental-health facility for people on psychotropic medications — temperatures didn't get logged at all.

There's evidence to suggest that ADC staff are fabricating some of the records that they're handing over to the court, Fathi said. On August 25, lawyers for the Department of Corrections emailed him temperature logs from the Perryville prison that included a set of readings for August 26 to 31 — in other words, six days into the future.

Those logs showed temperatures ranging from 82 to 92 degrees, significantly cooler than what had been reported elsewhere.

"Obviously, those temperatures were made up," Fathi said. "What we don't know is how widespread the practice is — and what the actual temperature was."

Representatives for the Arizona Department of Corrections did not respond to an inquiry from New Times about why the error had occurred. (It will likely be discussed in an upcoming court hearing.)

If ADC employees are falsifying official records, well, it wouldn't be the first time. Last year, in the wake of two suicides, Cronkite News reported that correctional officers had been filling out paperwork to make it look like they'd been doing welfare checks every half-hour.

In reality, those welfare checks never happened, which meant that one suicidal inmate was left alone for three hours. During that time, she killed herself.

But even if staff are filling out the temperature logs in advance, one thing can't be disputed: It's been extremely hot.

Correctional officers are feeling it, too.

"Twice in last six years, I’ve been taken out in an ambulance," a staff member at the Florence/Eyman complex, who asked not to be named because of fears of retaliation, told New Times.

"They don’t supply us with water, but they supply the inmates with water. And then we’re wearing metal vests, going up and down two flights of steps in 12 different pods, because you’ve got to be doing hourly checks on these guys."

It's not uncommon for guards to to get so severely dehydrated that they have to call out of work the next day, the officer added — a problem that exacerbates the ongoing staffing crisis.

"They’ve got people running ragged," he said.

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