Inmates say heating problems at Westville are retaliation for food protest
BY MICHAEL GONZALEZ Post-Tribune correspondent February 3, 2014 2:00PM
Some inmates are complaining of extreme cold in their cells at the Westville Correctional Facility. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: March 5, 2014 6:05AM
WESTVILLE — A handful of prison inmates believe heat to their cells has been cut off in retaliation for a recent protest, but a state Department of Correction official said there are no records of heat being shut off.
The official said the complaints come from a vocal group of prisoners at Westville Correctional Facility.
The inmates declined to use their names, claiming they fear reprisal from prison officials. They cited inch-thick frost on windows and melting ice dripping down walls. T-shirts and towels used to stop drafts from the windows freeze solid.
They complained common areas tend to stay warm, but the cells, where they spend nearly all day, remain cold.
“Clearly, you can take the temperature of the cell, and you’re gonna find 40 degrees or lower. Now, that’s cold,” one inmate, a Gary resident, said by telephone. “We’re not supposed to be in these cells with ice caked on windows and water dripping everywhere.”
He said cell temperatures have been cold since the Jan. 5 snowstorm, at times dipping below 50 degrees.
John Schrader, public information officer at Westville, said temperature logs of the particular pod indicate the building temperature dipped below 65 degrees only once, during a maintenance issue with two heating coils, and officials promptly issued extra coats and blankets.
“Apparently, the inmates are talking about some sort of heat shutdown, but the data here shows there was no shutdown except for Jan. 23, and that was for one single day,” Schrader said.
The facility houses 3,300 inmates, but the complaints have come from a group of about 50 in one pod, and their families.
The inmates say heat has been turned off because of a food protest they launched last year after a change in their daily menu. The DOC moved to two hot meals a day and one sack lunch of sandwiches, a side item and a drink, Schrader said.
Officials wanted to make more time for inmate programs and free up time for corrections officers to work in the residential areas, Schrader said. He claimed inmates in the A pod initially accepted the sack lunches, then demanded a return to three hot meals a day.
Schrader said the DOC returned to three hot meals a day after inmates “went with this campaign type of thing,” enlisting help from family and friends, who flooded DOC offices with complaints about the meal changes.
“It’s not like it’s a big issue,” Schrader said, adding officials initially changed to sack lunches to accommodate maximum-security inmates. “(Inmates) asked for sack lunches, we gave it to them. They asked for hot meals, and they got their hot meals back.”
Schrader said heat problems in that pod were due to malfunctioning coils, and administrators are following purchase-order procedures to correct the problem.
The Gary man disagreed, claiming the heating problems were not coincidental.
“We don’t know if they’ve got a new system or not, but it’s awful funny the sections doing the most paperwork and complaining ... we’re the ones without heat.”
Another inmate, who has been incarcerated for more than 10 years, said in a telephone interview that this is the second year cell temperatures have dipped so low.
“It’s like living in an icebox here,” he said. “(Officials) keep saying the heat’s on, but it’s not inside the cell.
“They do retaliate when people tend to push the issue to make them do what they supposed to do.”