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Texas Lawsuit Alleges Prisons Without Air Conditioning are Inhumane

A lawsuit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of 58 year old Larry Gene McColuum who died while suffering a seizure in the soaring 100 degree heat while incarcerated in a Texas prison.  McCollum was taken to the hospital where his body temperature was measured at 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  He fell into a coma and died six days later of what an autopsy concluded was hyperthermia "due to housing in a hot environment without air conditioning."

Only 21 of Texas' 111 prisons are fully air conditioned.  The remaining have some AC but not in the inmates' quarters. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice  wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, but spokesman Jason Clark passed along an emailed statement that said the agency "strives to mitigate the impact of temperature extremes" by providing ice and additional water to inmates, restricting outside activity, training employees and inmates to be aware of heat stroke, and allowing fans for all custody levels, among other measures. 

Houston Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the state’s Criminal Justice Committee, said the cost of air conditioning the state’s prisons would be too expensive and that the lawsuits won’t get anywhere. 

“The bottom line is it is a miserable place to be. Prison is not a pleasant place and it was actually designed to be not pleasant,” he said.

Whitmire said he also believes that many inmates enter the prison system with pre-existing conditions and that’s what’s behind their deaths.

The lawsuit claims there were 11 heat related deaths in 2011.  Four of those deaths occurred in one South Texas prison. 

Eugene Blackmon, 67,  claims the intense heat gives him headaches and blurred vision.  He filed a lawsuit and hired an expert who took measurements inside the dorm.  The indoor temperature for that summer reach a staggering 134 degrees.

It's interesting that state law requires that all jails keep an inside temperature between 65 and 85 degrees, but that law doesn't apply to state prisons.

McCollum was serving a yearlong sentence at the Hutchins State Jail. He had only been there three days when he collapsed and later died.


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