Metro Department of Corrections

The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections issued a statement on Tuesday confirming that officials had struggled to keep cells warm in certain parts of the jail, amid the recent streak of frigid temperatures over the past week.

On Monday, Louisville resident Jade Tennis wrote a post on Facebook urging those with family members in the local jail to contact the media, as “the dorms have been freezing cold for the last 4 days,” with inmates trying receiving extra blankets and hot bottles of water “to make sure they don’t freeze to death.”

While stating that Corrections officials were checking temperatures and the blood pressure of inmates each day that the heating system failed to work, she wrote that “currently in the jail it is 38 degrees and inmate(s) are freezing.”

Asked if the claims in the post are true, assistant director Steve Durham issued a statement saying that “the heat is firing on all cylinders” at the department’s facilities, but “this year’s cold snap adds an additional challenge to keep the inmate housing units as warm as we would like.”

While stating that Tuesday’s temperatures “remain in the 60’s in most housing units,” Durham added that a piece of HVAC equipment at the jail facility above the Hall of Justice was not functioning over the weekend, during which “some temperatures were recorded in the 40’s” in that space.

In the statement, Durham noted the aging nature of the jail facilities, which — along with recent overcrowding — is part of the reasoning behind Corrections Director Mark Bolton’s case that Louisville needs to construct a new jail.

“The jail complex is a series of old buildings, built in the 50, 60, and 70’s,” stated Durham. “There are design challenges and aging heating and cooling systems that contribute to irregular temperatures. Louisville Director Bolton has repeatedly commented that a new jail is needed. Metro Corrections has spent over $300,000.00 on HVAC costs since 2016.”

As for the situation in the cells above the Hall of Justice this weekend, Durham stated that the HVAC equipment was maintained by Metro Facilities Management, which contacted a vendor for repairs. He stated that now “the heating system is pumping as hard as it can and temperatures in the housing units appear to be stabilizing. Officers are paying attention and have been providing inmates extra blankets.”

Tennis told IL that her boyfriend was incarcerated and told her about the decreasing temperatures at the jail since last week, going from the 50s to the 40s to a low of 38 Monday evening. She added that he thinks he might have an ear infection and pneumonia, but has not received any medical attention.

“There is no reason for inmates to be without heat for five days in a row, even if the building is an old one,” said Tennis.

Asked for Mayor Greg Fischer’s reaction to the conditions at the jail facilities, spokesman Chris Poynter referred IL back to Metro Corrections.

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]