How heavy should the hammer blows of hard time fall upon prisoners in Texas? This is the question being asked as another sweltering summer is sweeping through the Longhorn State. Inmates at various institutions have filed suit over the lack of air conditioning. With temperatures frequently topping the 100 degree mark, the question of merely being uncomfortable verses life threatening conditions comes into play. Those feeling the brunt of this burn are saying that this constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. We shall endeavor to uncover how many facilities are people potentially put at risk and what is being done both on the legal front and from the correctional facilities to keep their guest healthy this summer.
Comprising 109 facilitates, the Texas Department of Corrections has only 30 of these locales having full air conditioning services. Some other units have areas for the infirm, mentally ill, and the general medical wards as having AC. The majority of prisons are at the mercy of stifling conditions with little ventilation. Advocates have ascertained that at least 20 prisoners have died as a direct result of this. Shortening of life spans and worsening of mental illness by this type of exposure have also happened from these conditions.
Staff on hand are not insensitive to these matters but can only help what strained budgets allow them to do. Ice and water are on hand for cooling. Increased frequency for showers to lower body temperature are also granted. Lastly, officers are given training so they can recognize inmates that are suffering from heat related maladies. It is odd to note that county jails in the state are required to keep temperatures lower than 85 degrees but that there is no guideline on the state level.
Since the money is not there or will not be allocated, this issue has gone in front of the courts. One problem is that the lawsuits take at least several years to make it through the system. The Texas Civil Rights Project took this to task in conjunction with the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights clinic. In 2014, they sued on behalf of all the state prisoners. They want to force the administrators to keep temperatures at a maximum of 88 degrees. Hardly comfortable but a much safer alternative than the unregulated conditions that now exist. This litigation is still pending.
Many of the building and facilities were constructed in an era where AC was not common. Current budgets would be stretched to the bursting point if they were to retrofit the current structures. Other states have been challenged on this but with mixed results. US Supreme Court said in a Louisiana case that excessive heat was unconstitutional but did not order the states to provide air conditioning as the solution. Unions for the guards have even joined this movement as their own also suffer from this heat. With over 70 percent of the buildings without complete AC, there will literally be no relief for this Texas summer.
Charlie Teschner started MESA Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling in 1982. Charlie has a journeyman and master plumber’s license. He was raised with a strong work ethic and he now applies those values to tasks such as Longmont, CO heating repair.