GREENCASTLE, Ind. (WTHR) — The Indiana Department of Corrections said it is now fixing an electrical problem that affected both electrical and water service at one of its state prisons, prompting weekend complaints of excessive heat inside the Putnamville Correctional Facility.
13 Investigates received multiple complaints after the problems started Friday morning. A 13News viewer whose son is an inmate at the medium security prison called conditions inside the Greencastle facility “inhumane.”
“He called and said they have no electricity and no running water,” she wrote. “He also reports it’s 100 degrees in the dorm. They are getting in trouble for having their shirts off just to somewhat stay cool… they have to use a trash can full of water just to rinse themselves off from sweat.”
The high temperature in Greencastle Saturday afternoon was 88 degrees. Combined with a high dewpoint, Saturday’s heat index in Putnam County made it feel more like 95 to 100 degrees, according to 13News meteorologist Angela Buchman. Inside the prison, IDOC says the actual high temperature hit 96 degrees, which means inmates likely experienced a heat index (what the body feels when heat is combined with humidity) readings in the triple digits.
What happened inside
IDOC Chief Communications Officer Dave Bursten told 13 Investigates electricity was temporarily cut to portions of the Putnamville Correctional Facility Friday morning due to an “electrical short” that impacted two dorm units that house between 240 and 300 offenders. He said staff at the prison reported electricity was interrupted for “only a matter of minutes” before backup generators kicked in to restore power.
“The transfer happened right away, the switch didn’t fail and power was restored,” Bursten said.
But the impact of the short circuit lasted all weekend and into Monday.
While two large fans operated on back-up power in both of the dorms, smaller fans mounted on walls to circulate air and to keep inmates cool did not work. IDOC said those smaller fans rely on power outlets that were not connected to the back-up generator.
The electrical problem also impacted water supply to inmate living areas. Water flow to Putnamville’s showers is electronically monitored, according to IDOC. The department acknowledged four of the eight showers in the 15N and 16N dorms are not connected to the back-up power supply, limiting the number of showers available to inmates who were struggling with the weekend heat.
“Affected offenders were provided access to an alternate shower location in the gymnasium,” Bursten told 13News, adding that coolers with ice water were also placed in the affected living units. Dorm 16N reached 87 degrees on Friday and 90 degrees on Saturday, while temperatures in 15N hit 90 and 96 degrees on those days, according to readings provided by IDOC.
Bursten said the water supply issues would be addressed Monday at the same time that IDOC was replacing the facility’s faulty electrical equipment. “All power line repairs are expected to be completed today, inclusive of establishing back-up power connection to the electronic shower control system of the affected showers in dorms 15N & 16N,” he wrote Monday morning in an email to 13News. Bursten later confirmed all showers were again working properly, and all power had been restored to inmate dorms by late Monday afternoon.
Built in 1914, Putnamville Correctional Facility is one of the state’s oldest prisons. IDOC said the facility currently houses approximately 1,950 inmates in dormitories and cells, and inmate living areas are not air conditioned.
According to the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative, prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause dehydration and heat stroke, which can both be fatal. It can also affect most of the body’s major organs, which can lead to renal failure, heart attack and stroke. The organization also points out many people in prison are susceptible to heat-related illness because they have health conditions or rely on medications that make them especially vulnerable to the heat.
IDOC told 13News there were no heat-related health issues as a result of the weekend’s electrical malfunction.