Monday, July 30, 2012
Texas court rules heat is cruel and usual punishment for TDCJ inmates as the agency deals with employee heat illness issues as well
By Doug Glass, Backgate Website
A Texas courts ruling that the Texas heat and the lack of prison air conditioning cannot be considered cruel and unusual punishment for those incarcerated was overturned this week by a Texas appeals court. The debate over the lack of air-conditioning in the prison system has intensified in recent weeks, after lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the agency in federal court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file additional wrongful-death lawsuits.
The danger doesn't just include the inmate population either. At least 17 prison employees and inmates were treated for heat-related illnesses from June 25 through July 6, according to agency documents. Many of them had been indoors at the time they reported feeling ill. TDCJ's own documentation shows that interior prison temperature readings of between 100 to 104 degrees can be considered typical in the Texas summer heat. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, who regulates and oversees all Texas county jails, helped impose state law requiring county jails to maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees in occupied areas. But the law applies only to county jails, not to state prisons.
The issue has become viral online, and a recent article in the New York Times detailed how at the Darrington Unit near Rosharon on June 25, a 56-year-old corrections officer fainted in a supervisor’s office and was taken to a hospital. Heat exhaustion was diagnosed. These instances ring true and often all over the state. Many Texas prison units with construction dating back over 100 years were surely not constructed up to today's standards. For us it's not an issue of inmate safety, it's about the safety of the already overworked and poorly treated staff that keep the units operating at full speed no matter what the weather. Time will tell how the lawsuits will affect the outcome of the subject. More to come..