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VADOC hopes to add air conditioning to more prisons

The Virginia Department of Corrections has been making preparations to keep inmates and staff safe during the extreme temperatures that can occur during the summer months.

Currently, 75 percent of Virginia’s 29,000 inmates are housed in facilities with climate controlled air conditioning to cool housing units during times of elevated temperatures.

For the remaining 25 percent housed without air conditioning, VADOC employs a number of strategies to keep staff and offenders as comfortable as possible when the summer heat intensifies. This includes installing additional fans and providing offenders with extra ice and water to help them remain hydrated. Early this spring, the VADOC Agribusiness Unit began filling water pouches that are frozen and distributed to inmates. The offenders also have access to ice machines.

In recent years, several facilities began using misting fans to further cool down the offenders and lower the temperature. Additional misting fans have been ordered this year. Some housing units are equipped with smoke exhaust fans that can be activated to move hot air out of the housing units and create more air flow.

“These facilities were not originally constructed with air conditioning, nor were they designed to have the accommodation installed without undergoing major reconstruction,” VADOC Director Harold Clarke said. “We recognize this is an issue of concern and we are working to address it as funding allows. Over the past several years, we have completed construction projects that have included the installation of air conditioning in several of the department’s older facilities.”

Construction was recently completed to include air conditioning at Central Virginia Correctional Unit and State Farm Correctional Center’s school building. Renovations were also completed that added air conditioning at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women (originally constructed in 1932, completed in 2018) and Keen Mountain Correctional Center (originally constructed in 1989, completed in 2019). Renovations that include air conditioning for the Marion Correctional Treatment Center (originally constructed in 1957) have been funded and are in the planning and procurement phase of the project.

The VADOC plans to monitor the availability of capital improvement funds in SFY2021-2022 and hopes to address heat-related renovations in additional facilities.

“These projects are important to us and we will continue to work toward additional installations whenever feasible. In the short term, we will work to make the housing units as comfortable as possible for offenders and staff, as we have done in the past,” Clarke said.

The VADOC is following guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to ventilate housing units effectively without increasing the chance of spreading the novel coronavirus. Offenders and staff will continue to wear utility masks and other PPE to keep one another safe.