Over the span of 14 years, 22 prisoners died from extreme heat in state prisons across Texas. That number only reflects what state prison officials have acknowledged, though. According to human rights advocates and health experts who have visited those prisons, the number of heat deaths is much higher.
This week, a federal judge signed off on a deal that could be historic – and yet, other prisoners say it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough.
Gabrielle Banks, a federal court reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says the deal would provide temporary air conditioning during the summer at a geriatric prison near Houston.
“It also sets up permanent air conditioning, pending legislative approval when the Legislature meets,” she says.
Banks says the vast majority of Texas prisons – 75 of them – don’t have air conditioning, while 29 do have air conditioning.
“Bryan Collier, who’s the head of the prison system, in order to avert future litigation by inmates perhaps, also to protect the many thousands of people in his care, is trying to take steps to move people who are at the greatest risk,” Banks says. “Given a certain set of categories that were set aside in this agreement, he’s looking to move some of those people to air conditioned units.”
Some prisoners aren’t happy with the deal – they want air conditioning for inmates at all the Texas prisons. The existing policy isn’t worse than laws in other states, though, Banks says.
“It is pretty ordinary in terms of state prisons around the country,” she says. “What’s different is the weather, as we all know. I looked at prisons around the country, and there are five states that have air conditioning for all inmates. There are 21 states that have air conditioning for most state prisoners. But the vast majority – and interestingly enough, all of the Gulf states – do not have air conditioning at the majority of their prisons.”
Banks says this new agreement could be used to bring similar lawsuits across the country.
Written by Jen Rice.