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Hot Temperatures Worry Families Of People Incarcerated At Utah’s Correctional Facilities

A photo of barbed wire wall at prison.
Families are worried Utah’s high temperatures are negatively impacting their loved ones at the Utah State Prison in Draper and the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.

It’s been a hot summer in Utah, with record-high temperatures reported throughout the state.

That heat has some families worried about their incarcerated loved ones at state-run correctional facilities.

Kami Monsour’s boyfriend is at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. She said he told her the cooling system in his housing unit hasn’t been on. That matches other people’s accounts among the family support group for the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network.

“It's not safe for anybody to be in heat like that, but my boyfriend also has [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], so he's got breathing problems. He's on oxygen,” Monsour said. “So him being in this heat I'm sure doesn't help.”

Molly Prince has been advocating for incarcerated people for 15 years. She formed the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network eight years ago to continue that work.

She said every summer, there have been concerns about hot conditions at the Utah State Prison in Draper, too.

She recently sent an email to families with advice on how their loved ones can beat the heat.

“You get a shower, you don't dry off, you put on a wet t-shirt, you lay on your cement floor and that's how you stay cool at night,” Prince said.

Shawn Anderson, facilities director for the state’s corrections department, said they try to keep the temperatures in the 70s and 80s. He said they have some sort of cooling unit — like a fan, swamp cooler or central air — in every area of the prison.

But there can be some challenges to keeping the facility cool.

“There's not much insulation in a lot of it, so that's difficult to maintain temperatures that are really consistent,” Anderson said. “So it fluctuates a lot.”

He said the cooling systems in the new state prison will be more reliable. That facility is set to open next year.

For now, Prison Operations Director Spencer Turley said inmates have access to ice machines to keep their water cold or for other needs.

He said he’s open to other suggestions, too, if families and their loved ones have any ideas.

“Our inmate health and safety and overall well-being is our top priority,” Turley said. “Part of that is living in a safe and reasonable environment. There are days that it's hot, and we’re mindful that it's hot, so we do everything we can to keep it cool.”

Corrected: July 29, 2021 at 1:55 PM MDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly state how long Molly Prince has been with the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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