For several days in both the summer and fall of 2017, San Diego’s Marine Corps Air Station Miramar had the dubious honor of being the hottest place in the country.
On Oct 24th, the mercury hit 108 degrees. That beat all records for temperatures that late in the year. When it gets this hot, residents in Southern California receive health warnings and are told to drink water and try to stay in air-conditioned spaces.
There is good reason, too. Heat can kill. Since 1970, more than 9,000 people have died because of excessive heat. And many tens of thousands have been hospitalized.
But if you served our nation and happened to get in trouble, you might just be out of luck. Miramar — formerly Fighter Town USA and now one of the largest Marine Corps installations in America — is home to the Naval Consolidated Brig at Miramar, one of the military’s largest correctional facilities.
Like any other correctional facility, it’s required to maintain certain standards for living conditions. But behind the fences — on a secure military base and away from prying eyes of the public — those standards are often ignored.
The American Correctional Association sets the standards for prisons and jails nationwide. Unless, a facility is voluntarily undergoing accreditation with the ACA, however, the rules are voluntary.
Naval Consolidated Brig at Miramar was seeking ACA accreditation again in September of 2017. And ACA standards mandate that temperature and humidity are “mechanically raised or lowered to acceptable comfort levels," just as the organization’s previous standards required “acceptable summer and winter comfort zones.”
The military’s own rules require that the temperature be maintained within both the standards for their bachelor enlisted quarters and the ACA’s rules for summer and winter comfort zones.
The courts have spoken on this time and time again. They have found that high cell temperatures can constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” In many cases, judges have ordered prisons to reduce and control temperatures in inmate housing to remedy constitutional violations.
Despite this, four of the six male dormitories at the Miramar brig do not have any air conditioning and summer temperatures often hover in the upper 80s to low 90s, forcing prisoners to sleep on cement floors because they’re just a little cooler.
Inmates sought permission to purchase fans for their cells but were rebuffed. The only fans allowed in cells are the small battery-operated devices that are used in the brig’s kennels as part of the Companion K-9 training program.
Yes, dogs get fans. Men— many with multiple combat tours serving our country — get nothing.
Brig commanders might object, saying that they don’t have the funds to install air conditioning or other methods to reduce the dangerous heat inside the cells.
But judges also have ruled that financial concerns “do not excuse noncompliance with court-ordered reforms where constitutional violations are found.”
Both inmates and their families have tried to bring these concerns to the local chain of command, the Navy Inspector General, the ACA and Capitol Hill, but so far no action has been taken and the brig received accreditation.
So who gave it attention? A federal judge, who forwarded the letter personally to the Secretary of the Navy on Feb. 5, 2018.
But the problem was never corrected.
These problems shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Up the road from Miramar there’s the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton brig. There, the dogs don’t even get fans.
What will it take to get the military or anyone else to take action on this? Does someone need to die? Do we really care so little about these service members?
Sure, they may have made mistakes but they also raised their hands, swore an oath and defended our nation in a time of war.
Don’t these men deserve better? Don’t they deserve some respect and at least the protections of the Constitution they were willing to die to defend?
On Dec. 8, 2016, a panel of members convicted Lt. Cmdr. Darin H. Keeter on multiple specifications of attempted sexual assault of a child, attempted sexual abuse of a child and solicitation of child pornography. A former chief who was commissioned in 2003, he was sentenced to confinement for three years and Dismissal. He has appealed the decision. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense or Navy Times and its staff.
Editor’s note: This response from Navy Personnel Command was emailed to Navy Times. We’re reprinting the full statement.
“Navy brigs comply with and exceed all national correctional standards — Department of Defense, Department of Justice and the American Correctional Association (ACA). Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar has been continuously accredited by the ACA since 1993; in its initial accreditation audit it was rated compliant and has been rated at 100 percent compliance with ACA standards for the next seven audits, including the most recent audit in 2017. The Navy initiated an investigation into complaints brought forward by former prisoner Keeter as he made those complaints known. That investigation is not yet complete. Navy leadership is sensitive to the needs of all who visit, work and live within the confines of the facility and will appropriately address the findings of the investigation.”