Heat in U.S. Prisons and Jails: Corrections and the Challenge of Climate Change

This paper from the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law addresses how increased temperatures and heat waves caused by climate change affect prisons, jails, and their staff and inmate populations. Recommendations are offered for what correctional departments can do to prepare for greater heat and minimize the dangers it poses.  

The report considers the legal issues for correctional departments that fail to protect inmates and staff from extreme heat - who will likely face the prospect of costly legal consequences. The research found that existing policies and regulations are generally inadequate to ensure that temperatures remain within a healthy range.

Some of this paper’s key findings include:

The US Department of Justice has shown an interest in excessive cell temperatures and has legal tools to protect inmates from extreme heat.

Correctional officers have legal protections against workplace hazards such as extreme heat.

Inmates with disabilities that make them more susceptible to heat stress may have viable claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is required by executive order to conduct climate change adaptation planning but little is required in other jurisdictions.

The report concludes that the most important recommendation for adapting correctional facilities is to start now; saying “the hour is already late. If correctional departments put off beginning their adaptation efforts because of uncertainties about the details of specific climate impacts or apprehensiveness about the complexity of adapting, the task will only become more difficult and costly.”


Publication Date: August 31, 2015

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  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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