Fla. prisons temporarily allow shorts, among other measures to address sweltering heat
The Florida DOC lifted uniform restrictions allowing incarcerated people to wear shorts and a single-layer shirt in response to hotter-than-average temperatures
By Amanda Rabines
ORLANDO — In what advocates called an “unprecedented move,” the Florida Department of Corrections has lifted uniform restrictions allowing incarcerated people to wear shorts and a single-layer shirt in response to hotter-than-average temperatures afflicting the state.
The temporary uniform policy is one of several recently adopted cooling tactics taking place inside Florida prisons, including sweeping repairs of broken water fountains and the offering of cool water kegs, advocates said.
“It just seems more reasonable and in line with what people would do in the real world,” said Denise Rock, the executive director of the prisoner advocacy group Florida Cares. “I just hate that it comes as a result of our pushing and not sooner…People who are incarcerated have been suffering for weeks.”
The measures follow a significant outcry from loved ones of people inside who want to see solutions to the roaring heat that’s been plaguing state-run correctional institutions—the majority of which lack air conditioning in dorms and dining hall areas.
As a response, the FDC said the department has temporarily lifted uniform restrictions until Oct. 1, permitting people who are incarcerated the option to dress in Class C uniforms.
Typically worn Class A uniforms require incarcerated people to wear long pants and an outer shirt, usually on top of a T-shirt. Meanwhile, Class C uniforms consist of authorized athletic shorts, a T-shirt and closed-toe shoes.
Lessening the layers of clothes can help keep people who are incarcerated cool, advocates say, but some worry the measure doesn’t go far enough because incarcerated people are still required to put on the extra layers in most places inside prison.
Several shared emails from wardens with FDC imply that Class A uniforms are required to be worn while moving between areas in the correctional institution, in addition to medical rooms, chapel services, visitation areas and in areas where programs take place.
“Things don’t change overnight, we are blessed they are changing,” said Karen Stuckey, an advocate for the rights of incarcerated people. Her son recently returned home after serving a nearly 20-year sentence, throughout which Stuckey said the FDC never lifted its uniform restrictions.
The FDC did not confirm how long it has been since the department last lifted uniform restrictions across all institutions, when asked. A spokesperson for the department instead said “it is not uncommon for restrictions on inmate uniforms to be lifted at the institutional level.”
Stuckey said allowing people in prison to wear shorts was surprising coming from a department with staunch uniform standards, but welcomed.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” Stuckey said.
She has been working with other advocates and legislators to ensure water fountains work and that there is ice water available to drink inside state-run prisons.
“It sounds silly but the number one problem we deal with sometimes is non-working water fountains,” Rock said. “I’m often emailing wardens letting them know their water fountain is broken.”
Individual institutions are also implementing change in response to the heat.
Lowell Correctional Institution, the largest state-run prison in Florida, is testing out large evaporative coolers that huff out cool air for long periods of time.
Tracy Zuluaga, executive director for the Post-Conviction & Returning Citizens Alliance, said the warden at Avon Park Correctional Institution agreed to accept a donation of mid-size evaporative coolers for its visitation area.
In an email sent to the warden, Zuluaga said fans would provide “a more comfortable environment” for visitors, people who are incarcerated and FDC employees.
“I do honestly believe this is a necessity for all parties…and it could be utilized widespread across the state for these hot summer months,” the email read.
“Now everyone is starting to take the same tone and follow our lead,” she said regarding other organizations seeking to donate fans and evaporative coolers.
Zuluaga said she believes the state should be doing more to ensure people in prison aren’t sweltering in the heat.
“Do I think it’s crap that we have to pay for [fans] when we’re already paying for everything else? Absolutely,” she said.
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