July 8, 2024

Indoor heat standards will soon be established by the state of California to protect its workers from being exposed to unhealthy levels of heat at the workplace – however, these protections will not include people working in prisons and jails. In an L.A. Times Op-Ed published today, UCLA Life Sciences professors Nick Shapiro and Bharat Jayram Venkat, highlight the injustices of this omission.

Key excerpts from the Op-Ed:

  • California has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that incarcerated people are protected from heat. As the legal scholar Sharon Dolovich has detailed, society’s right to incarcerate anyone is rooted in a “carceral bargain” made by the state that entails “an ongoing affirmative obligation to meet the basic human needs” of inmates. The constitutional prohibition of cruel punishment makes this duty “nonnegotiable.”

  • A recent survey of people imprisoned in California found that two-thirds of respondents had experienced extreme heat.

  • Downsizing a dilapidated and bloated prison system makes fiscal sense for a state in the red. And as temperatures continue to rise, closing prisons and jails is an increasingly promising strategy for pragmatic and ethical climate adaptation that won’t break the bank and will save lives.

You can read the full piece, here.

Shapiro and Venkat are in the UCLA Institute of Society and Genetics. Shapiro is the director of the Carceral Ecologies Lab at UCLA. Venkat is the director of the UCLA Heat Lab.