An article written for The Dallas Morning News outlines the battle between prisoner advocates and corrections officials over intense heat conditions in Texas prisons. During the hottest summer months, temperatures can easily climb to over 100 degrees for the thousands of inmates serving time in prisons without air conditioning. This is of particular concern for the elderly and those with mental health issues.
Corrections officials admit that conditions become sweltering, but they say that the cost of providing air conditioning for all prison buildings, especially ones that are very old, makes it fiscally prohibitive. Instead, they require officers to monitor inmates for heat-related illnesses and to provide them with ice and water. They also give inmates the opportunity to take multiple showers and to wear shorts, among other concessions.
Prisoner advocates claim that, since 1998, at least 20 inmates have died from heat-related complications. They say they don’t expect inmates to be comfortable in prison life, but they should at least be safe. Inmates and their advocates aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with present conditions: prison officers also have to suffer through the heat. And given the current shortage of officers, there is concern that numbers will continue to dwindle if the issue is not properly addressed.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of eight inmates who have died from heat-related illnesses is currently making its way through Texas courts. If the state is found liable, it could reshape the way that the prison system copes with extreme heat. If not, it seems likely things will continue as they are.