CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Fluctuating temperatures inside state prison facilities are being called into question by some Rhode Island correctional officers.
Richard Ferruccio, president of the R.I. Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RICBO), told 12 News “it is not uncommon” to see fluctuations of extreme hot or cold temperatures inside facilities.
On the weekend of March 11, he said the union office received a number of calls from correctional officers complaining of the cold at the Adult Correctional Institution’s Intake Service Center (ISC). The center has a total inmate bed capacity of 1,148, according to the R.I. Department of Corrections (RIDOC).
“Correctional officers were wearing jackets, hats, sometimes even gloves inside the facility,” Ferruccio said.
Inmates housed at the ISC fall into several categories, including pretrial detainees, newly sentenced inmates who are awaiting classification to other facilities and sentenced protective custody, according to RIDOC. The department said an inmate awaiting trial status typically remains housed there for approximately 25 days.
Ferruccio said in addition to correctional officers complaining of the cold, an inmate housed in the ISC was taken to the hospital on March 13 because he was “possibly suffering from hypothermia and some other complications.”
J.R. Ventura, a spokesperson for RIDOC, told 12 News the department could not confirm if the events were related, and did not clarify what the inmate’s diagnosis was.
“Out of an abundance of caution, an inmate was taken to the hospital from the Intake Service Center to be examined after displaying unusual behavior,” Ventura said in a statement Friday.
Ventura said that, as of Tuesday, the inmate was in stable condition, and “due to several underlying conditions, he remains at Rhode Island Hospital.”
RIDOC could not speak to the specific health conditions of patients, he added.
The ISC did experience “some temperature fluctuations,” that week, according to Ventura. He said the facility started to become warm when the weather changed, and maintenance had to be called to cool parts of the building down.
Ventura told 12 News the ISC has two main areas, a North side, and a South side, with several housing modules in each wing. He said when temperatures change, it rarely happens inside the entire facility, but mainly in one wing and in specific modules.
“The temperature fluctuated from warm to cool while they adjusted and calibrated the control for the various housing modules; it did not fall outside the regulated safety levels,” Ventura explained.
In this case, he said the South side cooled off quicker than the North side. During the week in question, Ventura noted that, “temperatures oscillated at times from mid 50s into the 80s, but did not stay at those levels.”
“As a matter of protocol and as added measure of precaution, officers distributed extra blankets to inmates for comfort. The fluctuating temperature was resolved,” he added.
In the event of hotter temperatures, Ventura said the maintenance department will have personnel reduce water temperatures, which in turn reduces the heat. He said individual units have to be manually turned off and on again to regulate the temperature when necessary.
The department has been in the process of getting a new HVAC system for this facility for the past four years, according to Ventura, “as the current system is outdated, and it requires constant repairs and maintenance.” He said the fluctuating temperatures have been an ongoing concern.
“Temperatures fluctuate every day based on the outside temperatures and we have qualified personnel on grounds who monitor the HVAC system,” Ventura explained.
Ventura said the department has had a bid out for an award for total HVAC renovation since July 2020. He said RIDOC is currently in the process of reviewing questions from potential bidders, which closes Tuesday.
Ferruccio said it’s a frustrating situation for the hundreds of inmates, in addition to the hundreds of correctional officers that work in the facility. He said the union voices its concerns to prison management “consistently.”
“It increases the tension levels between the staff and the inmates. It’s just an unhealthy situation, and it’s something we’ve been dealing with for years,” Ferruccio said.
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