If you can’t stand the heat…

Apr 23rd, 2014 | By | Category: Conditions & Constitution, Katz Litterbox, Prisons & Confinement, Spotlight
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Convicts And Guards Broil In Texas Prisons

The heat in Texas' prisons is so intense as to be unconstitutional.

The heat in Texas’ prisons may be so intense as to be unconstitutional. (ZOOM image)

Human rights group says Texas prisons are so hot during summers that ‘convicts and guards are broiling in conditions that are dangerous, unconstitutional and violate international human rights accords’

Prof. Howard “Howie” Katz
A story by in Mike Ward and Lauren McGaughy in Tuesday’s Houston Chronicle reports that the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas Law School has released a 40 page report highly critical of the summer heat conditions in Texas prisons. The group wants all 109 Texas state prisons air conditioned and wants the corrections system to take immediate steps to make sure that inside temperatures this summer do not exceed 85 degrees.

The correctional officers union has applauded the Human Rights Clinic report. But Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), is defending the current heat situation. Livingston says: “We have significant protocols in place governing the movement of offenders early in the day for work assignments, we supply ice water and have fans and other equipment to increase air movement. We believe the protocols are appropriate.”

However, the law school clinic notes that the Center for Disease Control has “determined these measures to be ineffective in preventing heat-related injuries in very hot and humid conditions, such as those present in TDCJ facilities.” The clinic report states:

“Despite these findings, TDCJ facilities largely do not provide air conditioning to the living areas of the general inmate population, many of whom are serving time for non-violent offenses. At the same time, the TDCJ has spent money on air conditioning for its warden offices and for its armories … (and) has not promulgated any maximum temperature policies for inmate housing, even though the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and numerous other state departments of corrections across the country have done so.”

“Continuing to disregard the plight of TDCJ inmates subject to extreme heat is not an option. [That] would be in violation of international human rights standards and the requirements of the Eighth Amendment if it were to do so.”

Since 1998, heat related illnesses have resulted in 19 Texas inmate deaths. Six lawsuits have been filed against the prison system over heat related deaths of inmates. One of those lawsuits alleges a cell temperature reached 149 degrees. The Chronicle story says that the heat repeatedly exceeds 115 degrees.

Now let’s get real here. Air condition all 109 Texas prisons? That would be cost prohibitive. And even if it were not, it would take years to complete the job. . Nor is Texas going to be able to meet the 85 degree limit agreed to by other states as the result of lawsuits. Those other states do not have 109 prisons to contend with.

Heat related deaths in prisons are no different than heat related deaths among construction workers. The key to preventing those deaths in prison is to provide the inmates with plenty of drinking water and to restrict any strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.

TDCJ, however, may not have its priorities in the right place. The department was criticized last year for spending $750,000 to build six air conditioned pig barns with ‘water misters that could lower summertime temperatures by up to 20 degrees and heaters in the winter – so the hogs would be comfortable.’ What we have here is pigs before convicts and correctional officers.
[NOTE: Initially posted 4/22/14 under Howie's signature column, I have cross-posted it today to the spotlight. -ED]

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2 Comments to “If you can’t stand the heat…”

  1. JBurns says:

    It seems to me that this makes some degree of common sense. Like the CDCR it’s just too big to do all at once but I’m pretty sure if given the proper resources and time frame AC systems could be added to all the housing units. And I’m sure TDCJ probably also has heat alerts like CDCR does to limit the exposure to heat related injuries but how often do not see the inmate population still outside on the tracks, handball court and workout pits still getting their “buff” on. I work at a desert prison where it gets upwards of high 120’s sometimes low 130’s, still have inmates working out. At some point the prison can offer cooler areas to sleep but it’s not going to prevent stupid; that’s what keeps these guys coming back from the streets in the first place, stupid as stupid does. As an officer’s union though, I would be in favor of pushing AC’s into the housing units, it gets awfully hot and humid with the showers going on hot hot days.

  2. pacovilla says:

    Unlike CO’s and cons, pigs aren’t there by choice and it doesn’t end well for them. Give the hogs a break.

    As for the rest, don’t swamp coolers work down there or is too humid? Either way, a properly constructed, ventilated building which fully exchanges the air every 5 minutes or so cannot possibly be 149 degrees unless it is 149 outside. Texas IS on Earth, right?

    Good post, Howie.