Massachusetts cites two prisons for ventilation problems
State public health officials have cited two state prisons for inadequate ventilation, after receiving complaints of excessive heat inside the facilities during a heat wave this summer.
During inspections conducted July 12, public health officials found parts of MCI-Concord and MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole failed to meet state standards for ventilation in correctional facilities, according to Department of Public Health documents made public Wednesday.
At MCI-Cedar Junction, inspectors found exhaust vents didn’t work inside cells throughout a three-story housing unit known as 4 Block. DPH recorded temperatures in the unit of 86 to 89 degrees, records show.
In another housing area, known as A2 Block, inspectors found exhaust vents weren’t working in a second-floor hallway. Officials recorded temperatures of 77 to 88 degrees in that section of the prison.
At MCI-Concord, public health officials found the air-conditioning unit was broken in a housing area known as Dorm L2, though an inspector noted that the equipment was being repaired and four large fans had been brought in. During the inspection, temperatures in that area ranged from 79 to 83 degrees, records show.
DPH notified the superintendents at both prisons of their findings in letters dated July 23. The prisons have 10 working days from when they received the letters to submit plans for fixing the ventilation problems and establishing a timeline for the repairs, records show.
DPH inspectors also fielded complaints about excessive heat at MCI-Norfolk, but found conditions there complied with state regulations during an inspection July 11, records show.
The inspection reports noted different measures prison staff take to help inmates during hot weather. At MCI-Concord, for example, prisoners who can’t afford to buy personal fans are given loaners to use in their cells. At MCI-Norfolk, 30-pound bags of ice are delivered twice daily, the report said. It did not specify how the ice is used.
In a statement, Department of Correction spokeswoman Cara Savelli said prison officials are reviewing recommendations from the public health officials who inspected the prisons.
“The well-being of all the inmates and employees at any DOC facility is of primary importance to us,” she said.
The inspection reports note some difficulties the prison system encounters in trying to control temperatures at its facilities.
At MCI-Cedar Junction, exhaust ventilation systems are used only when inmates are locked in their cells to be counted because the loud noise generated by the equipment creates a security issue, according to an inspection report signed by Nicholas Gale, an environmental health inspector.
Groups that advocate for the humane treatment of prisoners raised concerns about conditions in the state’s correctional facilities after they received reports about some inmates struggling from a combination of heat and poor ventilation during a heat wave that stretched from late June to early July.
Christine Mitchell, an organizer with prisoner support coalition #DeeperThanWater, said advocates are still hearing complaints about the heat from prisoners at MCI-Norfolk and MCI-Cedar Junction.
“Until we’ve heard that conditions inside have changed, we’ll keep working,” Mitchell said.
The current regulations require cells to be adequately heated between Sept. 15 and June 15, when cooler temperatures are more likely, but do not include mandates for cooling during hot weather.