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July 19, 2023

New Prison Policy Initiative briefing on "Heat, floods, pests, disease, and death: What climate change means for people in prison"

Leah Wang has this new briefing for the Prison Policy Initiative titled "Heat, floods, pests, disease, and death: What climate change means for people in prison."  The piece's subheading summarizes its themes: "Without consistent access to relief or safer environments, incarcerated people are punished with deadly heat, increased biological threats, and flimsy emergency protocols. We explain new epidemiological evidence confirming that heat and death are linked in prisons nationwide, and explain why the climate-change-induced plight of people in prisons deserves swift action."

Here is how this timely new report gets started (links left out, head to PPI to see all the graphics and links):

Heatwaves and extreme weather events are now commonplace.  States across the South and Southwest are experiencing record high temperatures (during the day and at night, which is a big deal).  Meanwhile, the Northeast has been drenched in more frequent, torrential rainfall and flash flooding.  Prisons and jails nationwide aren’t insulated from these events, yet we rarely see how correctional staff ensure the safety of the millions of people locked within them.

Hopefully, readers have seen our prior work — or any of several other powerful essays — explaining the ways in which extreme heat, combined with a lack of air-conditioned spaces and cooling measures, is especially harmful to people behind bars.  Some have described the experience as being trapped in heat-retaining “convection ovens.”  We’ve also highlighted some of the environmentally disastrous ways prisons are sited and operated.

In this briefing, we present new findings from a nationwide, epidemiological study showing a strong relationship between extreme heat and deaths in prisons — especially in the Northeast.  We also explain why extreme heat isn’t an isolated danger — it’s wrapped up in other hazards like pests and diseases guaranteed to make prison life miserable, if not fatal.

July 19, 2023 at 09:23 AM | Permalink


What happens if the surviving inmates decide they have nothing to lose by staging insurrections or by taking hostages of those personnel against whom they have bones to pick with?

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 19, 2023 9:24:47 AM

Global warming…Is there anything it cannot do?

The piece would still be ridiculous, but I’d have at least a little respect for the author(s) if global warming wasn’t included.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 19, 2023 12:34:17 PM

William Delzell,

“Surviving inmates?” What? Are they trapped in Bastogne being pounded by artillery while waiting for Patton, or in this case the Carrier AC installer, to arrive and save them? A little melodramatic are ye?

Riots will start over anything.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 19, 2023 12:41:22 PM

Having gone to college and law school in the Northeast, I know that air conditioning is not as common up there as it is in the South.

The global warming aspect of it is that extreme heat is likely to become more common in states that have traditionally not seen a need to install air conditioning in public facilities. Over the next decade or so, when older government buildings are replaced or retrofitted to include air conditioning, prisons are not likely to be at the top of the priority list unless courts force state governments to make it a priority.

The issue is whether, at some point and most likely soon, we will start having courts find that the failure to take some remedial steps to combat excessive heat in correctional facilities represents deliberate indifference to the health of inmates.

Posted by: tmm | Jul 19, 2023 1:41:19 PM

TMM: The focus of heating killing inmates will most likely be in the South, where it gets much hotter, than in the Northeast. I suspect that you are unaware, for example, the Florida state prisons have no air conditioning at all except in medical facilities. Only Federal prisons consistently offer air conditioning in all states. I suspect that someone will soon file a lawsuit against Florida, stating that in light of Climate change, the absence of air conditioning in their prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment and violates the Supreme Court's holding in

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 19, 2023 2:41:29 PM

Tarls, do I understand you to doubt global warming?


Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jul 19, 2023 4:14:09 PM


Yeah, I was right about Cali. You tried to demagogue the issue--but as I noted, addressing "disparate impact" can create EPC issues of its own.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 19, 2023 6:02:05 PM


I’ve never doubted global warming, or cooling. The earth has always done it. I’m not even questioning AGW. I dismiss the claims from the apocalyptic Book of Revelation the communist crew is pushing.

I laugh at the breathless “hottest day on record!,” proclamations.

I laugh even harder remembering that air conditioning was invented like yesterday.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 19, 2023 6:06:01 PM


Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 19, 2023 6:07:55 PM

Not sure, federalist, what you think you were "right about" or what you assert I "tried to demagogue," but I am sure I have given up trying to understand your feelings because they so often have so little connection to law or logic.

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 19, 2023 6:26:19 PM

The Cali discounts given to minority defendants based on "disparate impact"---I point out obvious problems and you try to smear me.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 20, 2023 11:33:11 AM

Existing California law --- via the California Racial Justice Act of 2020 --- currently provides remedies for criminal convictions and sentences sought or obtained or imposed based on "race, ethnicity, or national origin." I am still not sure what "obvious problems" you are talking about with this California law based on your prior curious equal protection theories or how you think I tried "to smear you." But I can just repeat that I continue to struggle to understand your feelings about law and logic.

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 20, 2023 12:27:20 PM

That's what the statute says--disparate treatment, but disparate impact is what is being used.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 20, 2023 1:14:13 PM

I have not followed California's application of this law closely enough to assess whether it is being applied properly. But, as you know, there are federal employment statutes that seek to remedy racial issues through disparate impact analysis. Are you saying those federal statutes are constitutionally problematic?

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 20, 2023 1:38:47 PM

Depends. There is law out there saying that if a practice has a disparate impact, then it has to be justified. But you have to be very very careful about the remedy so you don't have different treatment on account of race.

The New Haven firefighters case, if you look into it, fleshes out the issues quite well.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 20, 2023 4:43:06 PM

Okay, federalist, I think I get your "it depends" point as it applies to matters like employment where the differential treatment of persons of different races that gives one race more benefits serves necessarily to give less benefits to another race. But, as I understand matters in the CJ setting, California is saying that if a person can show (even statistically) that they were subject to a particular conviction and/or sentence on the basis of race when other persons were not subject to the same measure of state punishment punishment, then the prosecuted/disadvantaged race can be relieved of that punishment. That seem, as I understanding it, just a variation of what I thought you were saying about people subject to federal prosecution being able to claim an EP violation based on Hunter Biden not getting prosecuted.

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 20, 2023 5:18:48 PM

No, I was not saying that. Statistics don't show EPC violations. What I am saying, and it should be very obvious that I am right, is that Hunter Biden got very favorable treatment to help the partisan political fortunes of the Democrat party. This is not a rational basis upon which to make prosecutorial decisions, and thus there is a valid claim that there should be a remedy. The evidence is far more than just what's come out regarding the prosecution. There's the Michael Flynn investigation, the Trump investigations, the Hunter laptop issue, and the list goes on and on. The DOJ's leadership was actively assisting the Democrats, and Hunter is a huge part of that.

Now you may say too bad, but the law is on my side. Equal Protection does apply to prosecution decisions, and there's plenty of evidence here. The issue is the remedy.

As for statistical disparities in sentencing, there are just so many variables, and they aren't capable of showing racial bias except in extreme cases. Thus, particularly in the hands of liberal judges, a means to discount sentences for minorities.

It's shocking to me that racially-conscious sentencing doesn't elicit questions on your part.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 21, 2023 2:45:41 PM

federalist, what is shocking to me is that you do not see the obvious connection between these issues AND how California's approach to remedying concerns about bias is sound. Let me, yet again, try to walk you through it so you can perhaps get it:

You say: I see a pattern of (political) bias in Hunter getting a break and GOP leaders being federally prosecuted. That's a (constitutional) problem, you say, but then you clearly struggle with a remedy. You have made the unprecedented suggestion that some unspecified (random?) other folks should be able to seek EP dismissals, though you have not addressed whether you think Congress might pass a statute that says anyone who could show they their particular prosecution was infected with political bias could get a remedy. Do you think such a statute would be sound and constitutional?

California says: we see a pattern of (racial) bias in the operation of our criminal justice systems. That's a (constitutional) problem, CA says, but we need to develop a remedy (as SCOTUS suggested we do in response to these problems in McClesky). We thus have passed a statute saying those who could show they their particular prosecution was infected with racial bias could get a remedy. Why do you think such a statute is unsound and unconstitutional?

I sense you feel very confident about your ability to identify improper political bias while you feel nobody can validly spot "racial bias except in extreme cases." But it is the same issue --- what biases impact the administration of justice, how can we assess and address those bias, and what remedies can and should legal actors use to restrict and remedy those biases.

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 22, 2023 8:29:13 AM

Tarls, I generally agree with you about fear mongering, but something is definitely happening in the world with respect to climate, and it's not good.






Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jul 23, 2023 5:05:30 PM

Doug, as I believe I noted, the issue pops up when using disparate impact as a source of evidence of racial bias, and that's what the judge was doing--or at least he was using the language of disparate impact, rather than disparate treatment. When you cure for disparate impact (which may have nothing to do with racial bias), you run a very strong risk of disparate treatment of the non-favored group. That's illegal as hell, and it would cause a real problem in the criminal justice system.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2023 11:41:20 AM

Mr. Levine:

There is zero doubt that increased CO2 results in upward pressure on temperature. CO2 was how we got out of the snowball earths!

But here's what we don't know:

(1) Net net is increased CO2 a bad thing?
(2) If net net, increased CO2 is a bad thing, then what is the time horizon?
(3) Is humanity capable of solving the problem, if in fact, it's a bad thing net net.
(4) Is the juice worth the squeeze? I.e., even if it is a bad thing and something that can be solved, is the solution worth it?

Scientists cannot answer these questions. No one can.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2023 11:45:13 AM

I think you are failing to distinguish, federalist, (possible zero-sum) government benefit settings from criminal prosecution/punishment/burden settings. Disparate impact analysis when handing out govt jobs or state funding might mean prioritizing/preferencing certain groups over other groups meaning the non-favored groups lose a government benefit. But using disparate impact analysis to limit state CJ powers to punish/burden seems is quite different.

Let's use marijuana reform as an example. Suppose we decide to use disparate impact analysis in MJ arrests/convictions/sentences to allocate new business licenses and then give all the (limited) MJ licenses to, say, young men of color under age 30. I can see how others can complain about unequal distribution of this (valuable?) license. But what if I just use this analysis to allow extra arguments in favor of court-ordered expungements or reductions in sentence? If the data show only young men of color get convictions for MJ possession or are the only ones who get three-strikes sentences for low-level MJ convictions, authorizing judges to expunge those racial disparate conviction (or reducing those racially disparate sentences) does not hurt others in a non-favored group who have not been saddled with those convictions or sentences.

Of course, if there is limited money for defense attorneys to seek CJ remedies or other ways CJ reform can become a zero-sum benefits game, then perhaps we can get into the problem you flag. But CJ remedies designed only to reduce disparate state burdens seems to me different in kind, for constitutional purposes and others, than remedies allocating limited state benefits.

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 24, 2023 12:03:14 PM

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