If you go to prison in North Carolina, there’s a good chance there won’t be any air conditioning in your cell. In the heat of summer, maybe that's more incentive to not break the law.
An inmate, who did not want to be identified, at Pender Correctional Institution said the heat in the prison is practically unbearable. He said it’s so hot, many inmates can’t sleep at night.
“Basically at night you have to strip down to your shorts, and you can’t sleep with anything over you. No blankets, sheets, anything like that. If you do, you’ll douse yourself in sweat. You wake up dehydrated. You wake up with a headache. You might get three to four hours of sleep per night. And this is on an average temperature day.”
Pender Correctional confirmed with the exception of one dorm for 130 inmates with medical issues, there is no A/C at the prison. As you might imagine, that means it’s pretty hot for the rest of the roughly 640 inmates serving time in Burgaw.
“I get it; I did something wrong that landed me in here away from my family," the inmate said. "But I’m in here trying to better myself and to deny me a basic human right like sleep isn’t right.”
The inmate added his daily activities are more difficult without adequate sleep.
“I don’t get but a few hours of sleep per night, and then I have work for eight hours, and then I go to a night class for school for five hours. You’ve got guys trying to better themselves but it’s tough when you’re irritable because you haven’t slept.”
Superintendent Bryan Wells estimated it’s 90 degrees in the dorms during the day in the heat of the summer, and said that his guards have to endure the same temperatures as the inmates.
State Department of Public Safety Spokesman Keith Acree said 63 percent of prison beds statewide are air conditioned, leaving 37 percent that are not. He added this ratio has improved over the past decade as the state has opened and expanded new prisons, while also closing old ones.
Pender Correctional does have a ventilation system to circulate air. But Wells said if it’s hot, the air being circulated around the prison is hot, too. They keep the windows shut during the day with the theory that will help them circulate cooler indoor air rather than sucking in hotter air from outside.
"Well, it's certainly an issue when you get hot, and we are certainly not opposed to air conditioning," Wells said. "We would love to have all our dorms and buildings air conditioned, but unfortunately the money has not set been aside to retrofit some of our buildings."
To help everyone manage the temperatures, inmates and staff are provided ice water throughout the day. When temperatures peak in the heat of the day on weeks like this, the prison will also close the yard to keep inmates from overheating.
While Wells agrees the temperatures are uncomfortable, he is not aware of anyone at Pender Correctional who has suffered heat-related medical issues this year.
Inmates also complained to us about windows being bolted shut, depriving them of fresh air for some relief.
While not all of the windows are bolted shut, Wells believes some of the lower windows were bolted years ago when an inmate sued the prison after walking into an open window. But Wells added in the daytime, when the air outside is hotter than the air inside...it keeps it cooler to keep the windows closed so the ventilation system can circulate the cooler indoor air, as opposed to sucking in hotter air from outside.
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