Most Florida jails lack universal air conditioning, but inmates may now purchase cooling towels. In 2019, the University of Miami will host a simulated prison-cell experience. Help keep Miami's independent voice free in the future by supporting New Times. The majority of Florida's jails are over 40 years old. Many do not meet basic health and safety standards for incarcerated people.
Inmates typically wear uniforms that allow staff to identify them at a glance. They can be identified by their clothes, which include white shirts with blue stripes or dots on them. Most have their own cell within the jail facility. They are usually given time out of their cells for exercise during daytime hours.
Florida has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. There are currently about 1 million people imprisoned in the state. That's more than any other state except Texas. California has the second largest population of prisoners in the country.
Prison systems are subject to federal oversight. Thus, all states operate correctional facilities that must comply with several requirements set by the U.S. Department of Justice. These facilities should be clean and safe for both inmates and employees. They should also provide appropriate medical care for inmates. Finally, they must be able to hold inmates without undue violence or risk of injury occurring.
In Florida, every inmate enters through a front door of the facility and is escorted to an assignment station where they wait to be processed.
AC is a long-standing issue for Texas inmates. Prison temperatures can be uncomfortable and harmful to inmates for economic reasons, yet the Texas government continues to refuse to cool jails. 75 of Texas' 104 prisons still do not have air conditioning, and those that do have to fight for it for a long time. When they finally get some cooling power, it usually isn't enough to make much difference.
In addition to being uncomfortable, heat can also be dangerous for inmates. A prison system that ignores the need for air conditioning allows temperatures to rise high enough to cause illness and death. A study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin found that absenting itself from the market for almost two decades, Texas has one of the highest rates of heat-related deaths in the country. The researchers concluded that this is because many Texas prisons fail to provide adequate cooling for their facilities.
There are several factors that lead Texas to lack air conditioning in its prisons. The main one is money. Keeping prisons cool is very expensive and there just isn't any budget for it. Even though more than half of Texas's prisons house multiple offenders over the age of 17, none of them receive individualized electronic monitoring devices like those used in juvenile facilities. This means that these inmates are left entirely alone in their cells for hours at a time with no way of knowing how they're doing or what might happen if they try to escape.
Despite being one of the country's warmest states, the great majority of dorms in public correctional institutions lack air conditioning and provide no reprieve from the heat. Complaints about state prison exhaust fans and cooling systems are common throughout Florida. Many inmates say they are not given adequate time to use the phone or go to the bathroom during hot days. Some claim staff members don't do anything about it when they ask for a fan or an ice pack.
The Florida Department of Corrections reports that all state prisons have air conditioning, but many cells in remote locations do not have windows and may not be cooled by indoor facilities. Inmates say this is often the case at South Florida jails such as Dade Correctional Institution in Hialeah and North Miami Beach Jail. They report being given ice only on very hot days when temperatures reach 100 degrees or more. When it does rain, they say, staff members will open cell doors for some air but most remain closed until conditions improve.
In addition to having no effect on temperature, inmates say there is no shade outside cells and little or no breeze. One prisoner said he received two tickets for sleeping on the bench in his cell, which has no mattress on which to lay himself down.
Conditions in county jails are usually less severe than those in state prisons, but still unpleasant. Most have air conditioners but they rarely work properly.
Seven private prisons now operate under contracts with the state Department of Management Services, housing around 10% of Florida's inmate population. However, no new privately managed prisons have opened in Florida since 2010, and the state has no plans to build any new privately run prisons. The number of inmates in Florida's private prisons has declined by about 20% since its peak in 2011.
Private prison companies manage these facilities on a contract basis through subsidiary corporations that are called "prison management organizations" or "PMOs." These companies receive federal prisoners and sometimes also serve as agents for local jails to handle overcrowding issues. They usually do not house inmates themselves but instead hire correctional officers to supervise inmate activities.
Florida's private prisons charge lower rates than state prisons but still generate profits for their owners. In fact, the seven private prisons in Florida earned $150 million between 2012 and 2013.
The for-profit industry has attracted criticism from activists who say such prisons increase crime because they are more likely to have violent conditions. There is also concern that private prisons reduce accountability because they cannot be as easily shut down if they are found to be violating standards.
However, supporters say private prisons help control costs while maintaining security. They also point out that many states that have abolished private prisons later find themselves unable to meet demand for incarceration services.