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Lack of cool air leaves Oklahoma inmates miserable

Day after day of sweltering triple-digit temperatures are creating miserable conditions for thousands of inmates inside Oklahoma prisons.
BY RANDY ELLIS Published: July 21, 2011

Day after day of sweltering triple-digit temperatures are creating miserable conditions for thousands of inmates and guards inside Oklahoma prisons.

Most cellblocks in the state Corrections Department's men's units are not air-conditioned, officials said.

Inmates are complaining, with several areas of the state having already experienced 100-degree or greater temperatures for more than 50 days this year.

A recent check of the temperature in one cell revealed a temperature of 96 degrees, said Jerry Massie, Corrections Department spokesman. Even some of the air-conditioned cellblocks have experienced periodic outages because buildings and air-conditioning units in the prison system are so old, Massie said.

Still, inmates are adapting better than most people probably expect, said Dr. Don Sutmiller, chief medical officer for the Corrections Department.

There have been no reported cases of inmates suffering heat strokes this year, he said.

“Statewide, this summer, we have had a few offenders at some facilities who have been seen or treated for heat-related complaints,” he said.

The vast majority were treated by just cooling them off with cold water, a fan and cool environment, he said.

“We have had a handful treated where we have given them IV fluids” he said, adding he knew of just one case where an inmate was transported to an emergency room for heat-related symptoms. That inmate was also treated with IV fluids, he said.

“The first year or two I worked in corrections I was just waiting for people to start falling out (during heat waves) and they didn't,” said Sutmiller, who has worked for the department nearly nine years. “That's not to say that somebody couldn't, but they just adapt well — even when it's this bad.”

Sutmiller said inmates learn little adaptation tricks, like dampening their cover sheets before they go to bed at night and setting fans so they blow over the tops of them, creating a cooling effect through evaporation.

Heat warnings issued

Three heat warnings already have been sent out to institutions this year, advising correctional workers to be on the lookout for inmates suffering heat-related symptoms and discussing things that can be done to reduce risk, Sutmiller said.

Workers are told to keep an especially close eye on inmates who are older than 55, have chronic illnesses or who are taking psychotropic medicines or other medicines that make them more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, he said.

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