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A repeated crisis: Ky. women's prison loses A/C amid heatwave

Empty prison cell
Getty Images
Empty prison cell

Parts of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Shelby County have been without air conditioning since Monday, according to a woman incarcerated there. This comes amid extreme temperatures and an active heat advisory. 

The woman said at least two buildings didn’t have A/C as of Wednesday evening.

She said corrections officials provided extra fans for affected dorms on Monday, but didn’t relax the institution’s uniform policy until Wednesday evening. The Kentucky Mesonet reported a heat index of 100 degrees in Shelby County around that time.

The uniforms are tan and look like scrubs. They have full-length pants and short-sleeved shirts.

“They've not handed out water. They were making us wear uniforms [Wednesday] morning…even outside detail workers, landscape workers had to cut grass in full uniform,” the woman said. “We had people falling out onto the sidewalk from heat exhaustion because they've had to wear their uniform.”

The woman said she and others incarcerated at the facility are using ice to make cold compresses and taking cold showers. She added, even with that, conditions are unbearable. 

“We don’t have a way of cooling down because we can't go outside…so we're just sitting here, sweating and suffering,” she said. “Seems like it's every year that we're having to go through this.” 

WFPL News has chosen not to name the woman in this story.

The prison also lost power and A/C last August during a heat advisory and temperatures in the high 90s. That power failure affected most of the residential dorms and officials attributed it to an electrical switchgear problem. 

Documents obtained by WFPL News through an open records request showed corrections officials could have addressed that issue soon after it began but hesitated due to cost, leaving hundreds of people incarcerated without air conditioning.

The woman said problems aren’t limited to sweltering summers. 

“In the wintertime, we have no heat. It's one of the two,” she said. 

In January, a boiler issue caused parts of the prison to lose heat and hot water. The prison’s six-year maintenance plan outlined the need to replace two boilers and air units that were more than 60 years old. 

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Corrections said the outage is a result of failing A/C coil sensors. She said officials have already ordered replacements, but gave no timeline for completed repairs. 

This story was updated on 6/17/22 to include a detail about what caused the outage.


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