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Va. Dept. of Corrections preps inmate facilities for summer temperatures

Virginia Department of Corrections says it has been making its annual preparations to keep staff and inmates safe during the extreme temperatures that can occur during Virginia’s summer months,  according to a news release.

Some 77 percent of the 24,000+ inmates and CCAP probationers or about 18,480 people in Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) facilities are housed with climate controlled air conditioning to cool housing units during times of elevated temperatures.

For the remaining 23 percent or about 5420 people housed without air conditioning, several strategies are used to keep them as comfortable as possible when the summer heat intensifies, according to the VDOC news release.This includes installing additional fans and providing inmates with extra ice and water to help them remain hydrated. Water pouches are frozen and distributed to inmates and inmates have access to ice machines.

All VADOC facilities built since 1990 have A/C in their housing units as part of their original construction. Many of VADOC’s older facilities (pre-1990s) were not designed for or constructed with A/C per the Virginia Administrative Code on prison construction in effect at the time,

Six major facilities constructed prior to the 1990s have no air conditioning. DOC said that “because of the age and original design of the older facilities, other renovations must be done concurrently with the installation of A/C. Facilities must replace operable windows with fixed security windows to ensure proper A/C operation and efficiency and may also require new ductwork,new electric wiring and controls.:

In recent years, several facilities began using misting fans to further cool down the inmates and lower the temperature. 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.

In the past year, DOC said taxpayers have spent more than $2.16 million to keep its facilities and the people inside them cool. Floor fans, ceiling fans, water, ice machines and bagged ice made up the bulk of heat-related purchases. Funding will provide for several upcoming improvements.

Haynesville Correctional Unit 17 is finishing a $500,000 installation. In July, Marion Correctional Treatment Center will begin a $5.3 million installation. In the fall, Halifax Correctional Unit 23 is slated to begin a $1 million project, and in the fall of 2022, Wise Correctional Unit 18 is scheduled to start a $450,000 project.

The VADOC plans to monitor the availability of capital improvement funds in SFY2022-2023 and hopes to address heat related renovations in additional facilities.

The VADOC follows 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 COVID-19. Inmates and staff will continue to wear utility masks and other PPE to keep one another safe, the news release concluded.

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