Dangerous New York City Heatwave Puts Inmates In Peril

Many have no access to air conditioning and are being punished for taking off their shirts, one advocacy group said.

Advocacy groups are calling on New York City officials to protect inmates as the city gets hit by a dangerous heatwave the mayor has called an emergency.

Temperatures are expected to reach above 100 degrees over the weekend, and some of the city’s most vulnerable people don’t have access to basic needs such as air conditioning or summer clothing, according to legal groups representing inmates.

Brooklyn Defender Services, which provides legal representation to those who can’t afford an attorney, said inmates on Rikers Island report being unfairly punished for trying to stay cool.

Some inmates only have one set of clothing — long underwear — and one client said a correction officer turned off a fan when people removed their shirts, the group said Friday in a tweet.

In a letter addressed to Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann on Friday, the Legal Aid Society asked that inmates in city jails be protected against the sweltering temperatures.

“Most crucially, we ask that the City move all individuals confined to their cells to air-conditioned units,” the letter said. “This includes individuals held in Enhanced Supervision Housing, who are typically locked into un-air-conditioned cells for a minimum of 14 hours, and up to 23 hours. When people are not in air-conditioned areas, the City must provide free access to cool showers and ice to all persons confined in non-air-conditioned units.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio activated an Emergency Heat Plan earlier this week in preparation for the high temperatures.

“Extreme heat is dangerous, period,” de Blasio said. “I urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution this weekend as temperatures near 100. Look out for your neighbors, friends and family and call 311 to find a cooling center. We are deploying all resources at our disposal to ensure New Yorkers remain safe and cool during extreme heat.”

In the past, the DOC has been criticized for failing to comply with court orders to provide a safe environment at Rikers when temperatures skyrocketed, the New York Daily News pointed out.

The DOC told HuffPost that in housing areas without air conditioning, inmates have access to ice and showers between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., and that clinics are open 24/7 for patients experiencing heat-related symptoms.

The Legal Aid Society is urging those worried about incarcerated loved ones in the city to call the Board of Correction at 212-669-7900 to make a report.

This article has been updated with comment from the DOC about inmates’ access to cooling options.

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