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‘Animals get treated better’: Mother of Virginia inmate concerned about rising heat in jail

May 16, 2023

by: Cheyenne Pagan

Posted: Aug 2, 2023 / 10:32 PM EDT

Updated: Aug 3, 2023 / 12:24 PM EDT

BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia mother is claiming her son and other inmates at Buckingham Correctional Center have been suffering through the recent heatwave because the jail does not have air conditioning.

In 2019, 8New reported that several families were concerned for their loved ones inside Virginia jails that had no AC. One of those jails included Buckingham Correctional Center.

Sheila, who only wanted to use her first name for privacy, is the mother of an inmate at Buckingham. She claims that years later, the jail is still too hot and does not have proper AC units in place.

“Animals get treated better than these men are being treated and that is ridiculous,” Sheila said.

Her son has been an inmate at Buckingham Correctional Center for more than nine years, serving time for malicious wounding and using a gun in commission of a felony. Sheila says she is used to hearing about the ongoing AC issues in the jail, but during this most recent heatwave, temperatures inside the jail rose while the inmates were under lockdown.

“They were left in their cells except for like, one hour a day. So, with the temperature, it can get anywhere from you know, 110 to 130 or above,” Sheila said. “When you have these gentlemen locked into cells that have nothing. I mean, there was plenty of grievances that came through because people didn’t even have fans inside their cells.”

In a statement to 8News, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) confirmed that Buckingham and other prisons built before the 1990s don’t have air conditioning. However, the Department also stated that jails offer ice, water pouches and misting fans to inmates.

The statement reads as follows:

“Many of DOC’s older facilities (pre-1990s) were not designed or constructed with AC per the Virginia Administrative Code on prison construction in effect at the time. These older facilities do have ventilation and fans for cooling and air circulation that meet American Correctional Association requirements for offender ventilation. While Buckingham Correctional Center, as well as the other facilities which were constructed prior to the 1990s, do not have air conditioning, we are currently working to systematically install AC at those units using ARPA funds received. The DOC routinely submits capital budget requests to the General Assembly for facility-wide installations at the major facilities; no funding has been received to date.

Each major facility without AC has a hot weather plan in place. VADOC employs a number of strategies to keep staff and inmates as comfortable as possible when the summer heat intensifies. This includes installing additional fans and providing inmates with extra ice and water to help them remain hydrated. Early in the spring, the VADOC Agribusiness Unit began filling water pouches that are frozen and distributed to inmates. The inmates also have access to ice machines. 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 airflow.

Buckingham Correctional Center has implemented its hot weather plan.”

They also added that they have added AC units so far at six jails across the state. They are:

Even though the Virginia Department of Corrections said that Buckingham implemented their hot weather plan recently when the jail was on lockdown, Sheila claims this isn’t enough for inmates like her son, who doesn’t have a working fan in his cell.

“It doesn’t matter what fans they had in the pod. It doesn’t matter that they put water out in the pod because they weren’t allowed in the pod. They were locked in their cells during the whole heatwave,” Sheila said.

The VADOC added in an additional statement that during the lockdown, eight cells at a time were allowed out into the pod where inmates had access to ice and fans. The statement reads as follows:

“…Buckingham Correctional Center entered a lockdown on 7-19-2023 and ended the lockdown on 7-31-2023. A total of 12 days. All facilities implemented their hot weather plan. During the lockdown period, ice still was placed in pods and 8 cells at a time were permitted out. The inmates had access to ice machines. The staff passed out ice and make sure the fans and ice machine were properly working. Showers are being conducted for all pods. Ice is still being passed out. Each pod has an ice machine, and an extra cooler filled with ice water to drink. Each pod is also equipped with a water fountain that dispenses cold and hot water. Each inmate is able to purchase a personal fan from Keefe Commissary. Each pod has a ceiling fan and two wall-mounted fans. Each pod is provided a large misting/swamp-type fan to circulate air- we do not use water in them. Frozen water pouches are passed out at a minimum of two meals per day when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees. We monitored all the housing units 2 to 3 times a day and the temperatures range from 83 degrees to 91 degrees with an average temperature of 86 degrees.”

Sheila hopes by sharing her sons story, change happens sooner rather than later.

“I just hope that we can keep this story alive. And we can stay on the Department of Corrections that they know that we’re watching, and nothing’s changing,” Sheila said.

VADOC also has a “Summer Prep” plan for handling heat inside jails. You can read the full release about the plan below:

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