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Spotlight on WNPJ member group, Mary House


Greetings from Mary House,


Summer’s bright days will soon turn to fall and we are grateful to all of you for bringing Mary House through another season.


We’ve had lovely young visitors this summer during their summer vacations and we wish them all a happy return to school this fall. We are grateful to you for helping us welcome the families who visit inmates at the Federal Correctional Facility at Oxford, WI., and I hope that you will continue to help us keep our doors open.


This summer’s heat has made it a difficult one for people living and visiting in our nation's prisons and jails. At least 44 states lack universal air conditioning within their prison facilities, even in regions known for sweltering summer temperatures In the past, dangerous heat conditions affected primarily those prisons located in the south. But in recent years, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have all experienced extreme heat in prisons, and many prisons and jails in these northern states were not built with the ventilation and cooling systems now needed to keep them livable.



The heat in jails and prisons also affects visitors, many of who may have traveled a great distance, only to find the visiting room so sweltering that they have to leave, especially if they are caring for small children.“It affected us to the point where I’ve left visitation a few times because we would be sweating so bad,” Walker, an activist and the founder and CEO of the group Families of the Incarcerated, said in an interview with Stateline. “We really couldn’t have an actual true visitation because we were drenched in sweat, and we were focusing on the heat more than we could focus on each other.” Kehaulani Walker, speaking to a reporter from the publication Stateline.


In Texas, more than two-thirds of prisoner living areas lack air conditioning. “The absence of air conditioning in prisons and jails is a disaster waiting to happen,” according to David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “This is not an issue of comfort or luxury, it is an issue of life and death. … The decision not to air condition these facilities is essentially a decision to let people die."


A recent report by The Marshall Project, ‘Concrete Coffins’: Surviving Extreme Heat Behind Bars and the Journal of American Medicine found that 271 deaths in Texas prisons between 2001 and 2019 “may be attributable to extreme heat days.” A separate nationwide study found that for every 10 degrees above the average summer temperature, prison deaths increase by 5.2%. But an effort this year to include funding for prison air conditioning in the state’s budget failed in the Texas Senate.


Prisons operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons are mandated to provide livable conditions, but many inmate areas lack air conditioning, and access to other means of avoiding overheating, such as fans, ice, and additional showers, are often limited. “Our living dorms, laundry rooms, cafeteria, library, gym, and TV rooms do not have AC. The only exception is the classroom, where staff from outside the prison come to teach. On a hot day, as many as 50 inmates, especially our older population here, are packed in that room for hours. We have several inmates well over 65+ in our camp who are subject to the same work and conditions


Access to medical care after hours is non-existent and the response time is often over 30 minutes after something has been called in. What exacerbates things further is that, at the time of writing this, two ice machines are not operational and the other is only partially operational. – Tyler King, writing from a Federal Prison Camp located in Indiana in A Voice from Prison.





All of this is sobering news, and a reminder that being the country with the world’s highest incarceration rate comes with a huge price.



To learn more about the work of Cassandra Dixon, contact for the member group Mary House, go here: https://www.wnpj.org/member-organizations-list/mary-house

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