ACLU Calls On State To Stop Prison Brownouts

Jul 18, 2013

The state says it's scaling back the number of prisons participating in a program that generates money in return for big electricity users agreeing to reduce power during periods of high usage.

An agreement with  a power company says five institutions instead of 24 will significantly reduce power on two hours notice in exchange for payments, whether the shut-offs are required. The move was made after the American Civil Liberties Union complained about inhumane prisoner treatment. ML Schultze of member station WKSU in Kent reports.

The power company, KOREnergy, pays some of its customers, including the state, to cut back on electricity during peak periods.  Mike Brickner with the ACLU says when prisons turn off lights and fans, they create a dangerous environment for inmates that isn’t worth the money.

MB:  No matter what amount of money it is, it does not excuse us from treating them humanely. And it also doesn’t excuse putting staff members in a possible dangerous situation.

He also says prison fights rise in summer months, even with the power on, and points to a major fight in prison in Conneaut on Monday as evidence.  Ricky Seyfang of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections says shutting off the power has earned the department almost 1.4 million dollars since 2010. The money will be used for energy conservation in the prison system.  Seyfang says shutting off the power lessens strain on the grid during heat waves, preventing brown-outs. She also says the prison living quarters don’t usually have air-conditioning and the prisons have programs to keep the inmates safe during these shut-downs.

RS:  They make available water and ice and they educate the staff with how to prepare and identify signs and symptoms of stress due to heat-related situations and they monitor these situations.

But Brickner says, though the state does take sick prisoners to climate-controlled areas, some inmates with conditions such as asthma that worsen in the heat told the ACLU they were denied access to air-conditioned areas.