Breaking News
More () »

Inmates offered free ice amid concerns over 'unbearable' heat in cells at Perryville prison

"I've had to sweat it out at night wondering if she's going to make it through the night," LaVonne said of her sister at Perryville. "I shouldn't have to do that."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — At Perryville prison, there are barriers.  Not just the physical fencing but barriers to information, leaving loved ones and family members with a lot of questions.

The main concern over the past few weeks has been how Arizona's Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry handles concerns over heat, air conditioners and swamp coolers.

"My biggest concern is her not being kept safe," LaVonne, who wanted to be referred to only by her middle name out of fear her sister could face retaliation.

LaVonne's older sister is serving a sentence in Perryville.  She said her sister has had health scares and the heat isn't helping.

"She’s in their custody," LaVonne said. "So, that is their obligation to keep these inmates safe."

RELATED: 'Life-threatening': Families worried their loved ones will die in Perryville prison over extreme heat

Several inmates and their family members contacted 12News concerning cells hitting in the 90s or 100s throughout the month.  

"I've had to sweat it out at night wondering if she's going to make it through the night," LaVonne said. "I shouldn't have to do that. I should be able to feel at least that her basic human needs are met."

A spokesperson for ADCRR confirmed last week that cells temped as high as 98 degrees when cooling systems were down.  

In abn interview last Wednesday, Department Director Ryan Thornell said the systems were fixed and the temperature reports he was getting were in the mid-80s.  

The 12News I-Team followed up with the department after inmates and their families continued sharing that cell temperatures were much higher. A department spokesperson sent a statement on Monday afternoon.

It stated Director Thornell had since been to Perryville “several times” in the past week but didn’t specify when.

RELATED: Arizona Corrections Director responds to heat concerns at Perryville prison

The statement didn’t answer our questions about how hot cells were getting or how often the cooling systems were breaking.

It did say that temporary misters were installed in the yards and that under the department’s “Excessive Heat Safety and Relief Strategy,” published less than a week ago on the department’s website, inmates had access to free ice.

"Some of these inmates don’t have anything to put the ice in," LaVonne said. "By the time they get to their cell, half of it is melted."

Before this, LaVonne had to put money in her sister’s account so she could buy ice.  Inmates have told 12News that ice could cost roughly $2 - $3 per bag, but the department did not answer our question about how much ice costs.

To LaVonne, the ice is a band-aid. "They feel like it's just a temporary fix because the news is involved," she shared.

According to Thornell, some long-term fixes are in the works, including air conditioning for the two buildings that have swamp coolers, but that’s not until the end of next year.

The Department's full statement regarding the "Excessive Heat Safety and Relief Strategy" is below:

Director Thornell has been in continuous contact with the administration at ASPC-Perryville and has been on-site at ASPC-Perryville several times in the past week. He is also receiving regular updates regarding the status of operations and heat-related impacts at ADCRR’s eight other state correctional complexes.

During his visits to ASPC-Perryville, Director Thornell spent time speaking with staff and the women’s population, and toured each of the heat-impacted housing units. Additionally, he spent time in individual cells, group spaces, and other impacted areas. The comfort and safety of our staff and inmate population are his top priority.

Given the ongoing hot summer weather conditions, ADCRR is taking additional steps to help ensure the comfort and safety of the women housed at Perryville. Many of these additional steps are also being implemented at other complexes, as necessary.

Until further notice, ice is accessible to the inmate population free- of-charge for personal use at complexes where ADCRR’s Excessive Heat Safety and Relief Strategy has been implemented. Once the strategy is activated at a complex, such as it has been at ASPC-Perryville, it will remain in place until further notice. Each ADCRR complex is working through an operational plan to ensure the necessary quantity of ice is available on-site, consistently, and can be stored, accessed, and utilized in a safe manner. Additionally, the Department has installed temporary misting systems on shade structures in outdoor yards, increased the availability of ice water, conducted additional health and wellness checks, improved air flow in individual rooms, and further increased accessibility to cooling centers at the complex.

As of Sunday afternoon, the women’s population at ASPC-Perryville, along with staff, were reporting much improved conditions and temperatures during the Director’s visit.

The ADCRR frontline staff are working tirelessly to provide a safe and secure environment that also allows for relief from the heat and ensures health and wellbeing. We are appreciative of the staff’s dedication to this effort, even during the hottest of temperatures, and for their flexibility and responsiveness.

Our team continues to work around the clock to keep cooling systems functioning and to support the additional strategies put into place. These efforts will continue until we have safely made it through the summer weather. To read more about our Excessive Heat Safety and Relief Strategy please visit here.

ADCRR will not have any further comment on this matter at this time. If the situation requires an update, we will provide it.

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out