Contractors Installing Air Conditioning at Jackson County Prison

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Call it luxury or necessity, but cold air is now a right at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility.

2 rented units are being installed to be used when heat indexes top 90 degrees.

It is not standard air conditioning, lawyers for inmates there argue, but rather temperature control. Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, says heat indexes inside those cell blocks can become 125 degrees. She attributes heat to two deaths in the facility in the past.

That was the argument that convinced a judge this work was necessary. Because the 70-year old building will house only sick prisoners this summer, a court ordered the state to install the air.

The Department of Corrections is not hiding the fact that they're paying for the work begrudgingly. These rental units run a $500,000 for the summer. They've also moved a cooling dome in at Egler prison next door at a cost of $400,000.

Spokesperson Russ Marlan argues that though the inmates in question are sick, so are many citizens who have not committed a crime, and don't have air conditioning. "Taxpayers aren't paying for their air conditioning," Marlan says.

The state is saving some money by saving space. Six months ago when the state announced plans--now on hold--to close it, Southern Michigan held 1,400 prisoners. By the court's July 15th deadline for installing the air, the DOC will have just 787, housed in just two units of the buildings. They're moving non-sick inmates out daily.

"Which," Marlan says, "should save us $300, 400,000, so that's a good thing."

The state is appealing the court's air conditioning ruling, but the hearing isn't scheduled until September.

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