As dangerous heat bears down on Texas, many Texas inmates have to endure the sweltering heat in non-air-conditioned prison facilities.
Just before the official start of summer, meteorologists at the National Weather Service issued heat advisories with a heat index of 110 degrees or more across most of Texas. The dangerous heat wave spreading across the state leaves many inmates fighting for their lives since it has been documented in court that the temperatures inside the units are often much higher than the outside temperatures.
The hot weather kicks-off the most grueling and dangerous season for thousands of inmates incarcerated in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons. The elderly, infirm, and people locked in solitary confinement cells which often have little or no ventilation are particularly vulnerable as the heat index rises to 110 degrees.
Only 29 Texas prisons provide air-conditioned living areas for inmates. Roughly three-quarters of the state’s adult prisons are still not air-conditioned in the inmate housing areas. However, these facilities do have air-conditioning in the administrative areas.
While the men’s prison tends to attract more attention, women offenders are in danger as well.
On Friday, prison officials agreed to spend nearly $4 million on air conditioning for the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas which has been in a legal dispute over the sweltering heat.
In 2014, six prisoners filed a federal lawsuit against TDCJ and the Wallace Pack Unit and won the class-action status that allowed them to sue on behalf of the more than 1,400 inmates. Prior to the lawsuit, TDCJ maintained that no heat-related deaths had occurred since 2012 and that all of the deaths were related to pre-existing conditions. However, during the lawsuit, Texas prison officials admitted that almost 24 inmates have died of heatstroke since 1998.
Studies performed for the lawsuit revealed that temperatures in the inmate’s housing areas frequently reached 116 degrees without the heat index. However, since the study was limited, it is possible the temperatures have been even higher.
In February, 2019, after years of lawsuits, appeals, and negotiations, an agreement was reached on the air-conditioning for the Navasota unit. Funding for the $4 million cooling system project was just approved on Friday by the nine members of the board that oversees TDCJ’s 104 prisons.
Many of the prisons were built during Governor Rick Perry’s tenure, and apparently no one considered that Texas is hot, nor did they take all of the factors into consideration when designing the air conditioning, or even having air conditioning at all, to account for the internal temperatures soaring as the outside of the cheaply made buildings were exposed to the sun.
Since it took five years of intense legal battles to get funding, TexasParoleNow.com is curious as to the time it will take to install the cooling system. We suspect, based on their prior actions, TDCJ will drag their feet as long as possible on this project.
Back in August, prison officials promised to cool the Hodge Unit in Rusk which house geriatric and medically fragile prisoners. As of today, permanent air-conditioning has not been installed in the inmate housing areas.
During the last legislative session, a bill mandating cooler prisons attracted attention but failed to gain enough support for lawmakers to pass it. Instead, state lawmakers passed a resolution which requires TDCJ to provide an annual report of all temperature complaints by inmates. A proposal to require TDCJ to report temperatures inside the prison cells was placed on hold.
Texas cannot continue to have these men and women suffer in the oven-like conditions. Prison is both a rehabilitative and punitive measure but the housing conditions should not be equivalent to a death sentence.
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