The Department lacks adequate policies or guidelines related to temperature control. Temperature mitigation is only briefly mentioned in a Departmental policy directive related to clothing where it is stated that clothing and bedding should be appropriate for climatic conditions.
Of most concern is that there is no formal identification of prisoners who are heat sensitive, such as those receiving medications that can increase vulnerability to heat stroke (e.g. psychotropics, diuretics, beta-blockers). The risks of inadequately identifying and managing heat sensitive prisoners were clearly demonstrated in the Texas correctional system. Out of the 14 prisoners who had died in Texas prisons since 2007, 13 were on prescribed medications for health conditions which exacerbated their risk of heat-related illness.
Ideally, prisoners who are at-risk of temperature related ill-health should be:
- Placed in appropriate units (i.e. preferably air-conditioned);
- Engaged in appropriate employment at the prison (i.e. not outside or in hot indoor environments such as the laundry during the summer months, unless medically cleared);
- Provided increased education on hydration and the avoidance of excessive physical activity; and
- Checked-on more frequently during periods of hot weather.
In a number of U.S. states, the identification and management of heat sensitive prisoners has been longstanding accepted practice. The Department has medical alerts for fall risks, fitness to travel, work, play sport, and being in the upper bunk but does not have similar alerts for heat sensitive prisoners. While health staff may be aware of the health and medication status of prisoners, the lack of awareness of heat sensitivity among operational staff impedes their capacity to manage risk.
The Department similarly lacks formal guidelines on what additional measures should be undertaken in response to extreme temperatures. In some U.S. states, heat logs are recorded daily in each housing unit and additional heat mitigation measures occur when temperatures reach certain thresholds. These additional measures may include the provision of increased fluids and ice, allowances for additional showers, and the temporary transfer of prisoners who are heat sensitive to cooler accommodation. Some of these measures are undoubtedly implemented by Departmental staff but the lack of any written guidelines places a high dependency on the good will and expertise of staff.