Louisiana prison officials push for air conditioning after fighting lawsuit

Prisons can’t retain staff without air conditioning dorms, officials say

By: - March 22, 2022 9:51 am

(Stock photo by Shutterstock)

The head of Louisiana’s prison system is pushing state lawmakers for funding to install air conditioning at its facilities statewide to make it easier to retain correctional officers. None of the seven prisons in the system have air conditioning for prisoner dormitories.

“Staffing is a real concern for us. That’s our top challenge,” Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said earlier this month. “Our prisons aren’t air conditioned. You got correctional officers changing clothes three times per day,”

The lack of staff at Baton Rouge area prisons has become so dire that the state is transferring 600 incarcerated people out of Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola and moving them to other facilities, where it is has been easier to hire staff. 

Fully air-conditioned prisons are the rare exception in Louisiana. The Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel had air conditioning, but hasn’t been open since 2016 when flooding destroyed the facility.

Winn Correctional Center in Winn Parish also has air conditioning, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is currently using the private prison for federal detainees.

All other prisons have mostly limited air conditioning to infirmaries, kitchens and cafeterias. The area where incarcerated women are being held at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel is also air conditioned, but sleeping areas in other prisons are not.

Lawmakers gave the prison system $2.8 million last year to study what it would cost to install air conditioning across their facilities. Previous estimates had pegged the price tag at $28 million.

LeBlanc said officials will use money out of the “major repairs” budget this year to add air conditioning to the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s dorms for incarcerated people who are in assisted living. They range in age from 60 to 90 years old.

LeBlanc hasn’t always been amenable to air conditioning prisons. The state spent more than $1 million over three years to defend a lawsuit brought by people on death row seeking to get their dormitory at Angola cooled, according to The Associated Press. Temperatures regularly reached over 100 degrees on the death row tier back 10 years ago.

Louisiana has about $3 billion in excess funding to spend this year, far more money than it has had since immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

Correction: This article initially said that 600 incarcerated people were being moved out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary and into Allen Correctional Center. The 600 incarcerated people will go to Allen as well as other prisons. 

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.