It is important to remember that, even while incarcerated, inmates retain an inviolable set of rights: the right to dignity, health, life, and freedom from cruel, unusual, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) continues to violate these rights of their inmates by subjecting them to extreme heat conditions. TDCJ has declined to provide air conditioners or set maximum temperature standards in inmate housing areas, leading to more than 14 heat-related deaths since 2007.
While one may argue that many free residents of Texas do not have air conditioning in their homes, it must be realized that many Texas inmates are locked in their cells for much of the time, unable to escape the summer heat while locked in their concrete and metal cells, where temperatures can soar well past 100 degrees in the summer. Add humidity to this, and the effects can be deadly.
Many of the deaths reported in TDCJ involve inmates with pre-existing health conditions or those who were on medications that left them heat-sensitive. TDCJ did nothing to protect them from the heat.
Several states bordering Texas have been providing air conditioning in their facilities for decades and some have a maximum temperature of 78 degrees to combat summer heat. It is interesting that even county and privately operated municipal jails in the region keep inmate housing areas below 85 degrees. Even in Guantanamo Bay, detainees are provided with air-conditioned cells. TDCJ needs to take action or more preventable deaths will inevitably occur.
To learn more about the inmate deaths due to excessive heat, read The Huffington Post’s article “Summer Heat Kills Inmates in Prisons, and That Needs to Change.”
A union representing Texas prison employees joined with the Texas Civil Rights Project held a news conference today calling for air conditioning inside prisons. The group believes at least 14 people died because temperatures inside prisons can reach 120 degrees during the summer months.