GOODYEAR, Ariz — There are still conflicting stories about how hot it is inside Perryville prison.
The 12News I-Team first started reporting about the women's prison in Goodyear earlier this week and has gotten an overwhelming response from loved ones, former inmates and women who are currently incarcerated, worrying that the heat in the cells could be deadly as the department deals with broken swamp coolers and air conditioners.
The I-Team asked the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry if we could go into Perryville ourselves to see what’s happening, but a spokesperson denied our request saying they didn’t “have the resources available at this critical time.”
Mary Campbell, one of the more than three dozen people to reach out to 12News about the heat issues at the prison, said she couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"I think it’s one of many conditions in the prison system that’s unacceptable," she said. "But this is life-threatening. Many of these women are non-violent offenders. People who suffer from addiction. Have traumatic experiences. So no. This is not how you treat human beings."
Mary's niece is more than a year into her sentence at Perryville. She and another inmate regularly correspond with her aunt, but lately, the subject is typically the stifling heat.
"I know I'm in prison," Mary's niece wrote in an email shared with 12News. "But last I checked, I was sentenced to 3 years, not to death!"
"I would say to them that I'm concerned, as well," said Corrections Director Ryan Thornell on Tuesday when asked how he would respond to families. "I'm concerned about the staff. I'm concerned about the population."
Thornell sat down with 12News for about 15 minutes to address heat concerns before running to another meeting.
At the time, he said he hadn't seen any reports of cells recording temperatures above 100 degrees, despite many women inside the prison arguing their cells are recording in the 90s and low 100s when temperatures are taken.
The I-Team requested the temperature logs for Perryville prison so far this month, but the department hasn’t yet fulfilled that request.
A department spokesperson confirmed that some air conditioners and swamp coolers failed last weekend but insisted they’d been fixed.
To help mitigate the heat, they said they’ve been doing things like moving women into the visitation area to cool off.
"And we're doing we're not just doing that in little 30-minute blocks here or there - that's ongoing," Thornell said. "So that they're not sitting in their cell, they're not sitting outside in the rec area."
Yet, these efforts are doing little to quell concerns for loved ones, who keep hearing how awful it is on the inside.
"If someone is going to get harmed or die from these conditions," Mary Campbell said when asked what concerned her most. "It’s just the well-being of these women."
The Buckeye Valley Fire District said they didn't have any heat-related calls to Perryville so far this summer.
12News is waiting to hear back from the Goodyear Fire Department.
Learn more about other 12News investigations by subscribing to the 12News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist.