In 1952, when the California Institution for Women was built to incarcerate about 1,000 people, California experienced one or two heat waves per year. By 2013 the prison had swelled to over 150 percent capacity, as climate change cranked up heat waves in the region. Southern California now experiences as many as 10 heat waves a year, each generally longer and more brutal than those the CIW was built to accommodate. In a feature for The Intercept, Cyrus Dunham corresponded with 10 people currently incarcerated at CIW. They describe heat waves as “unbearable,” “a living hell,” and “like being cooked alive.”

Access to fans is limited, air-conditioned spaces are rare, and they receive two small cups of ice per day, which melt within an hour. Covid-19 considerations now mean people incarcerated at CIW are not allowed to open doors or windows for ventilation, and are often denied access to showers and shady outdoor spaces to limit the spread of the virus. “The only way for me to survive,” one 54-year-old woman with high-blood pressure, diabetes and kidney problems told Dunham, “is to wash my clothes in the sink and wear them wet, day and night.” (The Intercept, Climate Signals: Extreme Heat