Federal Court Continues Order Protecting Prisoners Against Excessive Heat
FRIDAY, JUNE 20, 2008
Dale Wilker, an attorney in the Prisoners' Rights Project, successfully argued to have the court order protecting prisoners against excessive heat continued. The order is one of numerous court orders in the consent degree in Benjamin v. Horn. Since 1978, the consent degree has regulated conditions in New York City jails.

United States District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., has ruled that a court order protecting vulnerable City jail prisoners from heat stroke and other heat-related ailments must stay in place for another summer.

In a decision dated June 18, 2008 but released June 20, Judge Baer held that the Department of Correction had failed to comply adequately with the Court's prior order requiring that prisoners with certain medical conditions be placed in jail housing units that are air-conditioned when the outside temperature is forecast to be 85 degrees or higher.

Dale Wilker, the Legal Aid staff attorney who argued the case, said: "I am relieved that the Court acted to continue to protect city detainees from the risk of death by heat stroke during extreme heat waves. We hope that the City will act to protect all persons in its jails, workers and inmates alike, from such preventable tragedies this summer and in the future."

Judge Baer found that 22% of "heat-sensitive" prisoners surveyed by a court-appointed monitor had not been placed in air-conditioned housing as the order required. He also found that heat-sensitive prisoners in a punitive segregation unit, which is an exception to the order requiring air-conditioned housing, were not reliably provided with ice and cold water during heat waves. Those prisoners are locked in their cells 23 hours a day.

Heat-sensitive prisoners are those who suffer from ailments including Parkinson's disease, a history of heat stroke, age of 65 or over, diabetes in prisoners aged 60 or over, dementia, suicidal tendencies, depression, mental retardation, a history of congestive heart failure or myocardial infarction, and those who take certain medications that increase the risk of heat-related illness. The Court's order was drafted with the assistance of a physician who is an expert on heat-related illness.

Read the full decision.