RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — With summer just around the corner, preparations are underway at the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) to keep inmates and staff safe from the extreme heat, hopefully by adding air conditioning to more facilities in the future.
According to VADOC, 75 percent of Virginia’s 29,000 inmates are currently housed in facilities with climate controlled air conditioning.
However, for the 25 percent housed without air conditioning, officials say they utilize numerous strategies — including installing extra fans and offering inmates extra ice and water — to keep staff and offenders as comfortable as possible when the summer heats up. In addition, earlier in the spring, the VADOC Agribusiness Unit started filling water pouches before freezing and distributing them to inmates. Furthermore, officials say they allow offenders to access the ice machines.
Several Virginia correctional facilities started using misting fans in recent years to further cool down the offenders and lower the temperature, but VADOC says the department ordered extra misting fans this year. Meanwhile, some housing units have smoke exhaust fans that can 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,” says VADOC Director Harold Clarke. “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.”
Since 2018, officials say crews finished construction and renovation projects that added air conditioning at Virginia Correctional Center for Women, Keen Mountain Correctional Center, Central Virginia Correctional Unit, and State Farm Correctional Center’s school building.
VADOC says funding has already been secured and planning and procurement are underway for a renovation project at the Marion Correctional Treatment Center, which will include air conditioning.
In addition, officials plan to monitor the availability of capital improvement funds in the upcoming financial year and hope to address heat-related renovations for more correctional 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 says.
Since COVID-19 is still a source of concern around the Commonwealth, officials say VADOC is following guidance from the VDH and the CDC on how to ventilate housing units in an effective manner without increasing the potential spread of the virus. In addition, both offenders and staff will reportedly keep wearing utility masks and other PPE to keep each other safe.
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