With Summer Swelter, Prison Inmates Have Nowhere to Go

I received an unusual letter from Arizona recently. It was written by an inmate held at the Lewis prison complex in Buckeye, Arizona and signed by 39 other prisoners. Their complaint? That life inside the Buckley unit there is like living in hell.

This summer’s record breaking heat there has them “baking in their cells,” according to inmate Robert Navarro. He says the temperature inside his corner cell – where the relentless sun beats down on his walls all day — was recently been recorded as high as 112 degrees. No windows, no fans, no ice or chilled water, no relief. Day after sweltering day.

Regular readers of this column know I’m no bleeding heart but we wouldn’t allow a dog to be subjected to conditions like that. So why, in locations where triple digit heat is the norm, are prison officials allowed to house inmates in such life threatening environments?

“I didn’t realize it was o.k. for our nation to treat our incarcerated people inhumanely,” Navarro wrote me. “Especially when they make such a big deal about prisoner’s treatment in Cuba and other cruel countries.”

Navarro, who is serving 25 to life for aggravated assault, gave me permission to use his name knowing harsh disciplinary steps might be taken against him for speaking out. Space does not permit publication of the more than three dozen other inmates who signed the heat complaint letter.

“We get to take a shower once in a while to cool off (then) its right back to the oven,” Navarro explained. “It’s equivalent to opening the oven to rotate the turkey.”

By the way, the temperature in Buckeye, Arizona for August is forecast to be well over 100 degrees every day but one.

Naturally, the guards cannot leave cell doors open for air circulation. But, according to inmates, if officials would remove the bottom door plates (which are there to stop the passing of contraband) they might get a little relief. Apparently, that request has been denied. More importantly, hot inmate’s requests for a daily delivery of a bag of ice has also been refused.

“Our cell water is always hot,” Navarro says. “We’ve asked for a bucket of ice to cool off our core temps but the answer is no.”

Prisoner’s loved ones who have complained were told by the Corrections Department’s liaison office that, “Inmates may order drinks through their commissary orders as well as ice, if they so choose to. They may also purchase fans.”

But here’s the dirty little secret:  the prison commissary at Lewis/Buckley is only open one day a week, according to inmates. As a girlfriend of one told me, “I suppose he could buy 7 bags of ice on that one day but they would melt within a few hours. What good is that?”

The Arizona Department of Corrections ignored my required written list of questions about the heat issue. But I got ahold of a message sent to worried family members from Deputy Warden James Roan. He said they are trying to combat the heat by checking swamp coolers on a regular basis “but with this heat and humidity they are only so effective.”

The Lewis complex, situated 40 miles outside Phoenix, has had its share of violence in the past. A riot and 15-day hostage situation in 2004. A grisly murder in 2010 where the victim was mutilated and and inmate death by beating earlier this year which is still under investigation. There have been complaints by high ranking employees about dangerously low staffing levels. It is chilling to think that inmates might stage another uprising so they can be sent to lock down where they believe it is air conditioned.

Someone in the Arizona Department of Corrections should be taking urgent steps to defuse this situation. Something more than simply waiting for cooler temperatures to arrive.

Look, the Arizona prison system isn’t the only one with this inhumane hot-box like situation. Countless inmates across the country are held in sweltering conditions. For example, a recent civil suit in Texas revealed 22 inmates have died of heat exhaustion there since 1998 and still most prisons in Texas don’t have air-conditioning.

Even though judges from Mississippi to Wisconsin and states in between have ruled that housing prisoners in too hot or too cold conditions is inhumane and unconstitutional yet still it continues. Budgetary issues are most frequently mentioned as the culprit.

Correction officials like to remind civilians that their staff also endures the heat inside the prison. But guards can grab a cold drink, step into a cooled office for a break and — they get to escape to their air conditioned car and home after their shift.  For the prisoners the constant heat is unrelenting.

Some will say, they shouldn’t do the crime if they can’t do the time. But it has never been the American way to treat our own people worse than we would treat an animal. Inmate Navarro is right. We would be quick to condemn these conditions in any other country. Why is it okay here?



  1. Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Facebook Friend Alan Fountain writes:

    Compassion for Humanity! Many crimes are crimes of our Deep State Government inflicted on Society that ultimately lands persons in institutions due to drugs. Let God or what ever happens when we expire be the ultimate judge. More empathy and Compassion can lead to a better society. Exceptions of course for those incapable of rehabilitation. If you take civility from the disenfranchised it is only a moment before we all lose it.

  2. Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Facebook Friend Linda Taylor writes:

    Too bad ….they get what they deserve …I don’t feel bad for them…,.don’t do the crime…don’t do the time …are they suppose to get all the advantages that a lot of honest citizens don’t have …they already get free room and board ….

    • Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:50 pm

      Facebook Friend Jon Hughes replies:

      You should probably read the article, not just the headline. Then maybe you wouldn’t just echo the catch phrases that the author suggested you would.

  3. Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich writes:

    Sorry, it’s a PRISON, not a HOTEL, or COUNTRY CLUB….
    If they obeyed the laws like everybody ELSE, they wouldn’t BE in prison…..
    I know that sounds callous & a bit uncaring, but that’s they way it is…Why should the lawbreakers have the same as the law abiding citizens??
    Maybe if they find out what a rathole prison IS, they’ll choose another career path.

    • Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      Facebook Friend Daniel Simone replies to ….

      Bill Voinovich, your argument and reasoning is well founded, but when keeping prisoners in 112 degrees cells other circumstances must be considered. First of all, in any penitentiary a percentage of the inmates have been wrongfully convicted for one reason or the other and don’t belong there. Secondly, another percentage of convicts are jailed for non-violent crimes that, though are considered felonies, technically are victimless misdemeanors. And those offenders don’t deserve to be treated so horrendously. Thirdly, a large percentage of inmates are imprisoned for minor possessions of narcotics or drug abuse, and shouldn’t be considered criminals. Rather, this category of felons ought to be rehabilitated instead of incarcerated. Lastly, many individuals in jails are DWI offenders and not hardened criminals. Should anyone who has driven under the influence at some point in their lives be imprisoned in 112 degree cells?

  4. Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Facebook Friend Ginnie Oleskewicz Schwartz writes:

    I believe that they need to do something to cool things. These are American human beings.. My opinion!!!

  5. Diane Dimond on August 14, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Twitter Pal Bob@Bob_Patriot_NJ writes:

    I feel more for the victims of their crimes who may be dead, injured, personal & financial losses. Families, dreams & businesses destroyed.

  6. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Noozhawk Reader MaxWebXperienZ writes:

    Our prisons are medieval. We allow a psychopath culture to flourish, cops lose/withhold meds, etc. Then we wonder why people don’t get rehabilitated. Republican Christians should consider this: Ancient Israel didn’t have jails. God knew better.

  7. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Noozhawk Reader J. Jones writes:

    Sounds like cooling off to me…..“Inmates may order drinks through their commissary orders as well as ice, if they so choose to. They may also purchase fans.”“We get to take a shower once in a while to cool off…,” . It’s not a country club, it’s a prison. It gets over 100 in the shop I work. We have to purchase fans and cold drinks too.

    • Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      DD replies:

      Difference being, J. Jones, you can purchase those cold drinks whenever you want, every day of the week. IF the prisoner happens to have money in their commissary account and IF the commissary is open that ONE DAY a week then they can get a bit of relief. Should they be in prison? Yes, if convicted of a crime. Should they be held under inhumane conditions? I don’t believe so. ~ DD

  8. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Facebook Friend Jean Jerry writes:

    Stop committing crime and you can stay home with your ac….

  9. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Facebook Friend Sherry Zimmer writes:

    Not all people being detained are guilty.

  10. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Facebook Friend Betty Jo Montgomery writes:

    My son is incarcerated in a Florida prison and the heat is unbearable.. but no one seems to care about any inmate. It’s out of sight out of mind attitude and many say they deserve this because they broke the law . The heat and humidity is horrible in Florida prisons. There aren’t any fans to at least circulate the air and with so many inmates in these dorms it’s absolutely inhumane. The heat gets tempers flared and it’s just absolutely sickening how they are treated. I’m happy to see you’re reporting on this, maybe it will get the attention of someone who may actually do something about it. But highly doubtful.

  11. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Facebook Friend Sue Corcoran from the UK writes:

    Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation. That is not the case in the USA. When you had at one point, one prison being built every 10 days to house the fast growing population of incarcerated, questions need to be asked. You are talking about poor people being held for God knows how long, purely because they can not afford bail. They are dumped in prison and forgotten about whether they are innocent or not. There have been cases of first time offenders being given life sentences for possession…yet the same Government has started to legalise marijuana in certain states??!!!..They know it is predominately the poor people taking this shit which leads them to lives of crime. The Government are hypocrites..How can they justify a life sentence whilst legalising at the same time? Not everyone in prison is a murderer, rapist, pedophile. What about the poor mom that was desperate and stole some milk formula for her baby? Caging people like animals serves no purpose to the human race only the Government that see it as another way to make money. PRISONS FOR PROFITS!!…thats what its all about..hell, they are not going to put AC in..will cost too much, might affect their bonus.People need to wake up to this dilemma before it is too late. The eyes of the world are on the USA at the moment regarding wrongful convictions, inhumane sentencing and conditions that prisoners are kept in. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the rest of the world sees the USA as a modern, forward thinking country, because it is quite the opposite at the moment.

  12. Diane Dimond on August 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Facebook Friend Janet Turner writes:

    If…they are there because of child support, unpaid parking tickets..etc… I do feel for them…but if they are incarcerated for robbery, murder and or assault, drugs…and I mean hard core or a weapon charge…I don’t. It is all a choice and with every choice that is made…there is a consequence.. If you choose to break the law then this is the price you have to pay. If you don’t like it…don’t do it. It is just that simple.
    I had someone tell me that if my son dies while deployed…well…he knew what he was getting Into…so there was no sympathy. It is the same for people who break the law. As a mom, my heart aches because I sympathize with not wanting to see your child go through this…but at the end of the day…it is a choice that was made, and this is the consequence that goes with it.

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