Why is it so cold in jail?
June 16, 2007 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Why are jails so cold inside?

I know that Paris is freezing but I also know that other folks I know that have been to jail also complain of cold (one of my husband's former employees years ago called us collect and begged for socks. Yes, we took them to her.)

I wondered if there was a reason?
posted by konolia to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, for some people, jail is "home and garden"...

Maybe it's cold so as to be uncomfortable. Jail isn't really supposed to be a pleasant place to be or anything.

It might also be better than the alternative, heat--then you have to deal with the smell of sweat. Some things smell really bad when they get hot.

Just guesses, though.
posted by DMan at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2007

Fun story:
In my younger, more rambunctious days, I spent a couple days behind bars. During that time, it never EVER got above 55 degrees anywhere in the 3 levels of the facility---it only housed about 120 people.

Reason being that the summer before, one of the long term prisoners sued the jail because their AC broke and it was something like 105 on the top floor of the jail, and they didn't bother to fix it because...well, I don't know, but top floor is where they stuck the bad bad guys. Anyway, he sued, and actually accepted a settlement for 0 cash, but to fix the AC.

So, as a punishment as a place where you get the jumpsuit on your back, an airline style sheet, and a half inch thick sleeping pad, they kept it at 55 degrees year round.

Apparently they REALLY wanted to get sued hard.

Also, everything is steel and concrete---things with a lot of thermal mass. Since the buildings usually touch ground and/or have basements, they just really ever heat up.
posted by TomMelee at 10:37 AM on June 16, 2007

I bet they're not cold in the heat of summer. They probably just don't want to spend extra money on optimal heating/cooling.
posted by DarkForest at 10:44 AM on June 16, 2007

I'm told the colder temperature is intended to reduce the spread of germs.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:52 AM on June 16, 2007

I always just figured that its large open spaces without much sunlight, made of concrete and steel which leech heat naturally. Not to mention the lack of insulation/sheet rock that would be placed over the walls in another type of building.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:53 AM on June 16, 2007

Concrete is cheap. Heat is expensive. Concrete + no heat = cold.
posted by frogan at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2007

While all of the above may be at least partly true, they don’t explain my friend’s experience behind bars. He was busted for growing pot in a National Forest and spent a year being shuttled from one facility to another, and did about half his time in county lockups. He said that they were the worst.

One in particular blasted the air conditioning (sort of like they do in Guantanamo). The guards came down hard on anyone who tried to block the vents, and it was too cold to get a good night’s sleep. Finally he got a piece of cardboard and a magic marker. He pressed the cardboard hard enough onto the grille for the vent to make an impression, and then used the marker to make a dead-on facsimile of the grille which he fastened over the vent every night at bed time.

I hope no prison guards are reading this.
posted by Huplescat at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I work in an acute locked psychiatric unit and it is very well air-conditioned.
There is a correlation between temperature and riotous behavior. We've had the ac go off and when it gets warm, tempers flare up more quickly.
Also, the smell of many cramped inmates/large males in a locked environment on a warm day...
I need a new job.
posted by bkiddo at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2007

Remember the movie "Do The Right Thing", when the race riots were set off on the hottest day of summer? Actual correlation to violence or not, I bet that's the theory.
posted by IvyMike at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2007

This guy begs to differ w/r/t the premise of your question.
posted by SuperNova at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2007

Well, supernova, HE's apparently the exception.

posted by konolia at 2:09 PM on June 16, 2007

I think frogan is right -- jails and prisons are made off site as precast concrete structures. This reduces cost, construction time, and makes expansion easy. Many of these cells are designed with absolutely no insulation other than the eight inches of concrete. I also only see facility HVAC systems, with no ductwork (for obvious reasons) injecting or pulling air from the individual cells. Therefore, an inmate isn't going to see a lot of air currents that are being forced through his or her space.
posted by sled at 3:34 PM on June 16, 2007

I'd rather jail be cold than hot. People die from crowded, hot conditions. 55F is not going to kill anybody.

Seriously, one of my worst fears is being stuck inside a hot, windowless cell. I feel woozy just imagining it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:31 PM on June 16, 2007

the guards might not notice the cold like the prisoners, the guards are wearing polyester uniforms including boots and vests...where the cons are wearing thin jumpsuits.

Frankly, I'd rather the guards were comfey than the cons. Jail isn't supposed to be nice.

posted by legotech at 11:55 PM on June 16, 2007

If you're talking about in the US then for sure it's plain cost savings. The book Going Up The River: Travels in a Prison Nation talks about some examples of this kind of penny pinching. Really fascinating read.
posted by loiseau at 5:11 AM on June 17, 2007

There is a pretty good correlation between aggression and heat. I'd imagine the answer to your question is a combination of things stated above. The violence issue, the cost of heating, and the thermodynamic properties of concrete and steel probably all factor into it.
posted by invitapriore at 5:12 AM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Third on keeping the inmates quiet. Same with TV and smoking.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:32 AM on June 17, 2007

I remembered this from a Siouxsie and Banshees song:

"Did you know, Putnam, that more murders are committed at 92 Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easygoing. Over 92, it’s too hot to move. But just 92, people get irritable."

It came from Outer Space - Ray Bradbury
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:49 AM on June 17, 2007

Cf. also "Fondly Fahrenheit" (warning: spoilers in story description).

Jail isn't supposed to be nice.

It's not supposed to be miserable, either. It's supposed to keep criminals off the streets. It's understandable that people think "criminals shouldn't be coddled," but that way lies the institutionalized hell that is the modern American prison system. "Criminal" does not equal "subhuman psycho killer scum"; it could be your cousin arrested for pot or a peaceful protester swept up by overeager police.

posted by languagehat at 9:22 AM on June 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

I work in a Juvenile detention center and it is certainly not cold. It used to be the women's 'pod' of the county jail. In the winter, some rooms get cold, but it's usually a comfortable temperature.

When I make trips to the county jail, it's not that cold, either. I think the comments about concrete having lots of thermal mass and the cost of heating are spot on. But perhaps our facility is so comfortable (in temperature, that is) because it's connected to the rest of the county courthouse. Or, maybe society is just a little more loving towards our juvenile delinquents.
posted by jstef at 1:56 PM on June 17, 2007

thanks for Cf, LHat. Didn't know about that one..

posted by strawberryviagra at 10:34 PM on June 17, 2007

I believe it's for the same reason that ERs are pretty cold: to decrease the spread of germs.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2007

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