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Incarcerated women say some living areas lack heat, hot water amid extreme cold

Empty prison cell
Getty Images
Empty prison cell

Parts of a women’s prison in Shelby County have been without proper heat or hot water since last Thursday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. The area has since seen inclement weather and below-freezing temperatures. 

It’s unclear how much of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women lost heat or whether it’s been restored. 

Over the weekend, representatives with the state’s Department of Corrections denied there was a lack of hot water. One of them, Katherine Williams, said the heat wasn’t out, but that extremely cold weather affected one boiler. 

“The boiler for one living area did not keep temperatures as warm as we wanted,” Williams said in an email Saturday.  “We will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate the system for any improvements that can be made in the coming days.”

She said the prison had measures in place — like setting up space heaters and handing out blankets — to keep people warm. 

Marcus Jackson with the ACLU of Kentucky questioned whether that was sufficient.

“Are they allowing people to remain in bed longer? Because normally, you have a time when you have to get out of bed. And even if you are going to get back in your bed, you can't be underneath the sheets and blankets,” he said. 

Jackson has been in contact with some women at KCIW who told him the temperatures in their living areas stayed around 50 degrees — contradicting officials who said temperatures didn’t drop below 60.

This isn’t the first time the prison has failed to regulate temperatures amid extreme weather. Last summer, the facility lost power and air conditioning for nearly a week during a heatwave. 

At the time, the prison suspended its uniform policy, allowing the women to wear T-shirts and shorts rather than their standard uniforms.

Now, only people who have enough money in their commissary accounts can afford to layer their clothing. 

“You have your standard uniforms, but you also have sweats and things that you can purchase,”  Jackson said. “People were wearing their sweatpants and then their khaki uniforms on top of those.”

In October, WFPL News obtained the prison’s six-year maintenance plan, which identified a need to replace two boilers and air units that were more than 60 years old. 

DOC spokespeople have not confirmed whether the boilers in the facility’s records were the same ones experiencing issues. They have not responded to multiple requests for updates since the weekend.


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