RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections has been making its annual preparations to keep staff and inmates safe during the extreme temperatures that can occur during Virginia’s summer months.
Currently, 77 percent of the more than 24,000 inmates and CCAP probationers in Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) facilities are housed with climate controlled air conditioning to cool housing units during times of elevated temperatures.
For the remaining 23 percent housed without air conditioning, VADOC employs a number of strategies to keep them as comfortable as possible when the summer heat intensifies. This includes installing additional fans and providing inmates with extra ice and water to help them remain hydrated. Water pouches are frozen and distributed to inmates and inmates have access to ice machines.
All VADOC facilities built since 1990 have included A/C in their housing units as part of their original construction. Many of VADOC’s older facilities (pre-1990s) were not designed for or constructed with A/C per the Virginia Administrative Code on prison construction in effect at the time.
Twenty-two major facilities have air conditioning either from original construction or retrofitted during renovations, while six major facilities (constructed prior to the 1990s) have no air conditioning.
Because of the age and original design of the older facilities, other renovations must be done concurrently with the installation of A/C. Facilities must replace operable windows with fixed security windows to ensure proper A/C operation and efficiency and may also require new ductwork and new electric wiring and controls.
In recent years, several facilities began using misting fans to further cool down the inmates and lower the temperature. Some housing units are equipped with smoke exhaust fans that can be activated to move hot air out of the housing units and create more air flow.
In the past year, the Department has spent more than $2.16 million to keep its facilities and the people inside them cool. Floor fans, ceiling fans, water, ice machines and bagged ice made up the bulk of heat-related purchases. Funding will provide for several upcoming improvements.
The Department’s current installation focus includes three facilities. Haynesville Correctional Unit 17 is finishing a $.5 million installation. In July, Marion Correctional Treatment Center will begin a $5.3 million installation. In the fall, Halifax Correctional Unit 23 is slated to begin a $1 million project, and in the fall of 2022, Wise Correctional Unit 18 is scheduled to start a $.45 million project.
The VADOC plans to monitor the availability of capital improvement funds in SFY2022-2023 and hopes to address heat related renovations in additional facilities.
The VADOC follows guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to ventilate housing units effectively without increasing the chance of spreading COVID-19. Inmates and staff will continue to wear utility masks and other PPE to keep one another safe.