Most Texans survive the state’s brutal summers by seeking respite indoors. However, for many inmates in state prisons and jails, that isn’t a possibility – because many of those prisons and jails aren’t air conditioned.
Actually, about 75 percent of Texas prisons go without A/C and rely on industrial fans to circulate the thick, humid air. Thanks to a class action lawsuit and resulting preliminary injunction, that may change in some of the state’s prisons and jails.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 and, instead of monetary compensation, plaintiffs sought cooler temperatures for inmates after a number of deaths resulted from the intolerable conditions in many Texas prisons. The suit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights clinic.
Inmates against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say that the heat should be considered cruel and unusual punishment and should be limited to a maximum of 88 degrees. They even drew comparisons to Guantanamo Bay, saying that even those prisoners have air conditioning.
Luckily for some, a federal district judge agreed and ordered that air conditioning be provided for medically-sensitive inmates at the “Pack Unit” within 15 days of the injunction. However, the state is appealing the temporary injunction.
The unit specified in the ruling has about 500 “heat sensitive” inmates that are living in quarters that exceed the temperatures specified in the lawsuit, it also requires the other 1,000 inmates have easy access to more tolerable conditions.
“The Court does not order defendants to reduce temperatures to a level that may be comfortable, but simply to a level that reduces the significant risk of harm to an acceptable one,” read the injunction by Judge Keith Ellison.
“Prisoners are human beings with spouses and children who worry about them and miss them. Some of them will likely someday be shown to have been innocent of the crimes of which they are accused. But, even those who are admittedly guilty of the most heinous crimes must not be denied their constitutional rights. We diminish the Constitution for all of us to the extent we deny it to anyone.”
In response to the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton responded with a press release.
“The judge’s ruling downplays the substantial precautions TDCJ already has in place to protect inmates from the summer heat,” he continued, “Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to pay for expensive prison air conditioning systems, which are unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated.”
The state is currently appealing the judge’s decision saying they are confident that TDCJ is already doing what is required to protect inmates from heat-related illness.