Lawmakers Say Coronavirus Measures At Women's Prison Put Inmates At Risk

Jul 20, 2020

Ford says he reached out to the governor in mid-June to make him aware of some of the reports he was hearing. (WFIU/WTIU News)

As temperatures rise, Indiana lawmakers are calling for Governor Eric Holcomb to review the conditions at a women’s prison and intervene to protect inmates.

State Rep. Karlee Macer (D-Speedway) and State Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) spoke outside the Indiana Women’s Prison on Saturday to highlight safety concerns connected to the facility’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prison has been locking doors to housing units, which prison officials call cottages, in response to the outbreak. But there’s no air conditioning on the inside of the cottages. When the doors are locked, prisoners say they heat up quickly.

State Sen. Ford said in a phone call Sunday that he was receiving disturbing reports from prison advocates about conditions on the inside.

“We are hearing that people are passing out from heat exhaustion, we are hearing that women are experiencing seizures,” Ford said. 

Ford said that an inmate had to be revived last week after she passed out due to the heat.

Indiana issued an excessive heat warning for the central area of the state Thursday afternoon that lasted until last Sunday. Macer and Ford say they believe the woman could have been injured by the heat Thursday evening, shortly after the warning began.

They fear that others will be harmed if no action is taken to review conditions.

On Monday, the Department of Correction denied that an offender needed to be revived.

“In fact, a correctional officer, of their own initiative, felt the offender in question should be assessed and requested prison medical staff speak with the offender,” David Bursten, spokesperson for the department, said in an emailed statement.

“The offender did not require medical attention,” Bursten said.

Ford and Macer are also concerned that the hand-locked doors are putting correctional workers at risk of spreading or becoming infected by the coronavirus.

They also say the limited ability to use the restrooms places an unacceptable burden on all the inmates but especially those who are menstruating.

According to Ford, he reached out to the governor in mid-June to make him aware of some of the reports he was hearing about the prison. He said officials from the governor’s office said they were going to follow up with the Department of Correction.

Ford said he also asked the fire marshal to do a surprise visit to the women’s prison to investigate if excessive heat or hand-locked doors posed risks. Ford said he later learned that when the marshal visited, the cottage doors were open.

This story has been updated.