BRISTOL, Va. - Relatives of some inmates at the Bristol Virginia Jail are worried about their loved ones’ health. They're stuck inside cramped quarters with no air conditioning.
The jail was originally built for 67 inmates. It now houses over 130 people, and last week they faced temperatures over 90 degrees and a heat index near 100 degrees.
"It's 8 o'clock in the morning when we get our visit and they walk in visits sweating already," Alicia Patrick said. Her fiancé is an inmate.
“It's so hot they literally can't get up to even exercise within their cells, or even get up for any kind of activity,” Cara Lane, the wife of an inmate, said.
Sheriff Jack Weisenburger acknowledged that the jail is hot, but he said it’s not dangerous to anyone. He also said some of the measures staff take to help with the heat. Each cell block has 3 industrial fans
"We provide fluids, water, and sometimes Kool-aid, and ice to all the cell blocks during the hottest parts of the day,” Weisenburger said. “I actually talked to kitchen staff and they're providing freeze pops to the inmates a couple times a day."
The sheriff's office is air-conditioned, which he says is because it was added on about ten years after the facility was originally built.
One inmate said that the ice and fans are nice, but they don’t do enough. According to him, many inmates have to sleep on the floor because there are not enough beds, and the heat on the second floor is much worse. He's also concerned that he may face retaliation for speaking out.
"The concern is they may not want to hear what is happening with the effect of them taking away our visitations," Lane explained.
The sheriff says his staff are sensitive to the problem of the heat since they also work in it.
“Historically we've had a few weeks in the summer that have gotten excessively hot,” Weisenburger said. “So our jail staff, our medical staff, our kitchen staff are all sensitive to that because they work in that environment.”
There is no law in Virginia stating whether or not prisons and jails must have air conditioning. According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, local jails and governing bodies determine for themselves whether air conditioning is installed and utilized in the jail.
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