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Florida prison reform activists demand A/C for inmates amid heatwave

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State leaders along with prison reform activists campaigned at Lake Eola Park to raise awareness of prisons in Florida who are being denied access to air-conditioning in record-breaking summer temperatures.

“What people want is simple: A country as great as its promise,” Maxwell Frost, who is a candidate for Florida’s 10th congressional district, said as he opened his speech. “No food, no visitations, no A/C. That’s not the promise of this country.”

Prison reform advocates, along with family members of inmates have said the temperatures inside the prison can top 100 degrees, therefore putting prisons with breathing difficulties at risk.

“On a day like today I know it’s brutal,” James Caesar, a former inmate, told the Orlando Sentinel. “You’re locked up with nowhere to go. You sit in shorts and just fan yourself.”

According to data held by Florida Department of Corrections, 24% of housing units in state run prisons have air conditioning. 18 state prisons offer air-conditioned dormitories.

Nikki Fried, a democratic candidate hoping to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis, Tweeted in response: “As governor, I’ll require every prison in Florida to have air-conditioning.” 

State Rep. Anna Eskamani said the state of Florida has a duty of care to all inmates. “We got to make sure that no matter how much money you have, if you’re under the protection of the state in a rehabilitation program, in one of our prisons, that you are taken care of and part of that is air conditioning,” she said. “It is a basic human right.”

Keith Harris, a director at Florida Justice League, said the lack of ventilation and intense heat is likely to increase violence and hostility in prisons.

“Can you imagine living in one of those cells over there in that picture right there, and there’s no A/C, no ventilation coming from that room? You’re like a biscuit in an oven,” he said. “FDOC has their own mission statement that says that they’re transforming one life at a time. I’d like to change that first word to traumatizing one life at a time.”

Department of Corrections Press Secretary Paul Walker said in a statement that air-conditioned rooms and dormitories are reserved for those who are elderly and with health conditions. He did say areas in prisons such as chapels do have air conditioning and that inmates can purchase a fan through commissary.

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