Report: Deadly heat remains a concern in Texas prisons

FILE - The perimeter of the Diboll Correctional Facility is seen July 19, 2014 in Diboll, Texas.  A new report from Thursday, July 14, 2022 indicates that many inmates at the Texas prison fear death or serious illness from the hot weather and believe that measures taken by authorities to mitigate unsafe conditions continue to fail.  (Rhonda Oaks/The Daily News via AP, file)

FILE – The perimeter of the Diboll Correctional Facility is seen July 19, 2014 in Diboll, Texas. A new report from Thursday, July 14, 2022 indicates that many inmates at the Texas prison fear death or serious illness from the hot weather and believe that measures taken by authorities to mitigate unsafe conditions continue to fail. (Rhonda Oaks/The Daily News via AP, file)

PA

Amid a summer heatwave that has pushed temperatures in some Texas prisons without air conditioning to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), many inmates fear death or serious illness from the hot weather and believe the Measures taken by authorities to mitigate the dangerous conditions continue to fall short, according to a new report.

The report comes as the head of the Texas prison system told lawmakers this week that oppressive working conditions caused by a lack of air conditioning in many units across the state are likely contributing to officials’ struggles to staff 7,000 vacancies in prisons.

“Without air conditioning or regulated temperatures, the system will continue to be under extreme stress and members of the public (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) will remain on the brink of potential health emergencies. It might kill them, but if it doesn’t, it will definitely degrade their health over time,” according to a report released this week by the Texas A&M University Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center and Texas Prisons Community Advocates, a group defense of detainees. .

Advocates and others have strongly criticized the lack of air conditioning in the Texas prison system, which has 120,000 inmates. Only 30% of prison units in Texas are fully air-conditioned.

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston said the nation’s largest prison system was “deliberately indifferent” to heat hazards and put inmates at “substantial risk of serious injury or death”.

Ellison’s comments came as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by inmates in a unit.

According to the university’s report, Texas is one of at least thirteen US states that does not have universal air conditioning in state prisons.

Following the settlement, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ, formalized many of the heat mitigation policies it had followed, including providing water and ice, creating respite areas where inmates could go to cool off and allowing inmates to purchase cooling items such as fans or towels.

But the university’s report called the procedures in place “ineffective and ineffective” because they are not designed to offer system-wide relief, but instead rely on overworked prison workers to offer. individual assistance to detainees while suffering from the heat themselves.

As part of the report, 309 Texas inmates were interviewed about their experiences.

“I fainted four times in my cell and no report was filed and I received no medical attention,” one inmate wrote.

Other inmates recounted seeing prisoners pass out from exhaustion while working outside in the heat and not being allowed into respite areas where they could cool off .

“This problem will only get worse as annual temperatures rise,” Carlee Purdum, a Texas A&M research professor who helped write the report, told the Texas House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Earlier in the meeting, Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said over the past 10 days the average temperature inside unair-conditioned prison living areas was 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit. (33 degrees Celsius), with five units having average temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius).

So far this year, six inmates and 11 staff have been treated for heat-related illnesses. There have been no heat-related deaths in Texas prisons since 2012, Collier said. There were 17 deaths from 2000 to 2012, including 10 in 2011 alone, when Texas experienced a record heat wave.

But Collier told lawmakers the prison system has “a wide range of things we’re doing to manage the heat,” including providing extra ice and water in living areas and training staff to monitor temperatures and stop activities when temperatures get too high.

Collier told lawmakers on Tuesday that it would cost about $1.1 billion to install air conditioning in all prison units in the state.

A bill that would have required TDCJ to install air conditioning did not pass in last year’s legislative session.

State Representative Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, said air conditioning can be provided in Texas prisons “if we have the desire to do so.”

“It’s about being politically human,” Sherman said.

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