Department of Correction outlines comprehensive heat sensitivity plan following summer heatwave

August 7, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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With the summer heat making its full force felt across the city, the Department of Correction (DOC) claims that it has been hard at work ensuring the well-being of those incarcerated at Rikers Island.

Following the most recent heatwave, the DOC reached out to the Brooklyn Eagle to outline its heat sensitivity plan, which is available online. It indicates that the majority of its facilities are partially air-conditioned with some being fully air-conditioned. By policy, the DOC prioritizes housing individuals clinically designated as heat-sensitive in air-conditioned units. These units house 85.3% of the 1170 heat-sensitive inmates as of May 25.

The DOC’s plan takes into account individuals’ right to refuse heat-sensitive housing. This refusal process requires the presence of a medical provider who explains the potential risks to the inmate. In some cases, security needs may override heat sensitivity designations.

Despite the age of some facilities that make it impossible to add air conditioning, the DOC has added AC to 37 additional units in preparation for Summer 2023. This increases the total to 191 air-conditioned housing units, providing comfortable living spaces for 56% of the people in custody.

As part of the high-heat protocols, staff monitor inmates for signs of heat-related illness, and Correctional Health Services (CHS) is available around the clock to care for individuals experiencing heat-related symptoms. In non-air-conditioned areas, the Department provides at least two fans and regular ice deliveries on hot days.

The Department also provides seasonal clothing to help keep inmates cool. An audit conducted in June 2023 revealed 49,000 short-sleeve t-shirts and 7,900 shorts in the DOC’s inventory, ensuring everyone in custody has access to summer attire.

The Department’s communication plan also includes reissuing its hot weather protocol to all staff and communicating to people in custody about steps they can take to prevent heat-related illnesses.

While this plan has been implemented, the DOC looks forward to new borough-based jails, designed with climate control features throughout, to better cater to the needs of the incarcerated population.


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