Union Officials Say Heat Makes Holding Center Dangerous

July 21, 2011 Updated Jul 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Union Officials Say Heat Makes Holding Center Dangerous

July 21, 2011 Updated Jul 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (RELEASE) – Temperatures in the Erie County Holding Center rose to over 100 degrees yesterday after the County failed to fix a large section of the facility’s air conditioning system that broke down Tuesday morning.

“Rising temperatures inside the holding center are putting inmates, deputies and civilian employees at risk,” said Mary Holl, President of Teamsters Local Union 264 which represents employees at the facility. “One of our officers was already injured on the job yesterday. Unfortunately we have not been able to get a straight answer from the county on when the problem will be fixed. The heat wave coupled with already difficult conditions has the potential to create a real tragedy inside the facility.”

Jail officials have reported that it could take up to two weeks to repair the failing rooftop cooling units that have cut off air conditioning to large portions of the facility.

In a letter addressed to the Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Sheriff Tim Howard and the New York Commission on Corrections, employees at the holding center in downtown Buffalo called for quick action to deploy an emergency cooling system in the facility to remedy the situation.

“The broken air conditioning system coupled with overwhelming forced shifts created by chronic understaffing is bad for the inmates and the staff,” said Deputy Rick Carr. “We have employees that are being forced to work in murderously hot conditions for 16 hours a day and inmates that are being held 24 hours a day under these conditions.”

During the summer months the holding center houses approximately 1,000 inmates awaiting disposition. The troubled jail has been the subject of several ongoing investigations by the New York Commission on Corrections, the Department of Justice, and several state agencies regarding inmate understaffing, working conditions, inmate suicides, and escapes.

“The facility serves a dual role as a jail and a medical center,” Carr said. “Under these conditions it’s difficult to service the inmates and maintain order inside a facility.”

Employees have asked for an emergency meeting with the county executive and the sheriff to mitigate the situation and ensure a timely repair of the downed air conditioning units.

Channel 7's Eyewitness News will be seeking comment from all sides with continuing coverage of this story.