How Extreme Heat in Texas Prisons Can Kill

Sometimes it feels like it’s as hot as 150 degrees in Texas prisons. The heat has claimed more than a dozen lives since 2007.

By Rhonda FanningApril 6, 2015 10:00 am

According to a study from the University of Texas last year, exposure to high levels of heat present in Texas prisons “violates several human rights of those incarcerated and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Now – a year after that study – a new report claims nothing has changed, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has failed to follow through on any of the recommendations from the previous study.

The March 2015 report, titled “Reckless Indifference: Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons” [PDF] cites anecdotes from inmates showing the severity of such stifling heat. The report describes:

“Inmate Freddie Fountain recalled an officer getting a reading of 137ºF from a laser thermometer he was pointing at Fountain’s cell at only 1:45 in the afternoon. The cell will not start to cool off until around 11pm, until which point the heat makes it impossible to fall asleep. Between the schedule inmates must adhere to and the debilitating heat during the day and night, inmates are left with two to three hours of sleep.”

Prison guards and inmates alike are subject to the same conditions and danger. The two greatest reasons for high turnover rate among Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff?  First, low pay and second, extreme heat. The report suggests that remedies implemented by the TDCJ, like personal fans, ventilation units, ice and cold water, have been insufficient.

Ariel Dulitzky, one of the chief authors of the report talks with the Standard. He is a clinical professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin and the director of The Humans Rights Clinic.

This post was prepared with assistance by Jan Ross Piedad.