Giving Compass' Take:
- Extreme heat threatens many Indigenous inmates in detention facilities run by tribal nations or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- These facilities lack the infrastructure and funding to deal with climate-based heat issues and other weather disasters, putting inmates at risk. What can policy do to acknowledge and recognize Indigenous needs?
- Learn how invisibility shapes Indigenous narratives.
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In any given year, thousands of people are incarcerated in dozens of detention facilities run by tribal nations or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Often left out of research on climate and carceral facilities, the tribal prisoner population is one of the most invisible and vulnerable in the country.
Now, climate change threatens to make matters worse.
According to a Grist analysis, more than half of all tribal facilities could see at least 50 days per year in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if emissions continue to grow at their current pace. Ten facilities could experience more than 150 days of this kind of heat. Yet many tribal detention centers do not have the infrastructure, or funding, to endure such extreme temperatures for that long. This kind of heat exposure is especially dangerous for those with preexisting conditions like high blood pressure, which Indigenous people are more likely to have than white people.
“Tribal court jails are the worst jails in the country. They’re worse than any facilities you’ll ever go to,” said Diego Urbina, a public defender for the Pueblo of Laguna. “I worked at a [veterinary] hospital when I was 15 years old, and the vet hospital had better facilities than we have out here.”
In the Pueblo of Laguna jail, just 45 minutes west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the air conditioner was often down, according to Brandon Chavez, a Laguna citizen who has been detained multiple times over the past few years. Even when doors were left open for cross ventilation, the effort did little to blunt the hot desert air, Chavez said.
“Climate change and excessive heat factors into Pueblo planning for all aspects of Laguna government and the Laguna community,” officials from the Pueblo of Laguna wrote in an email to Grist and Type Investigations. When asked whether Laguna currently has plans to manage climate impacts like excessive heat, officials wrote, “The [detention facility’s] HVAC system is less than 10 years old and normally keeps the occupants warm in the colder months and cool in the hotter months. Malfunctions will occasionally happen and are quickly repaired.”
Read the full article about impact of extreme heat on Indigenous jails by Joseph Lee, Jessie Blaeser, and Chad Small at Grist.