Judge Rules Prisons Must Protect A Group Of Elderly And Disabled Inmates From Extreme Heat

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelJuly 21, 2017 9:03 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

A federal judge has ordered state officials to provide heat relief to elderly and disabled Texas inmates at a state prison north of Houston.

A group of inmates from the Wallace Pack Unit sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice a few years ago. They argued the un-air-conditioned facility can lead to health problems, and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison stopped short of ordering the facility to be retrofitted with air-conditioning. But he did give the state 15 days to come up with a plan to make sure almost 500 vulnerable inmates are housed in areas no hotter than 88 degrees.

That could also mean transferring inmates to other jails. And there’s a county judge in East Texas who would be eager to take some of those inmates on.

Before Judge Ellison made his ruling, Newton County Judge Paul Price sent him a letter offering up a now vacant prison in his county for the Pack Unit inmates.

“We have a facility that is air-conditioned. It can house up to 872 inmates,” Price says. “It’s a privately-owned prison with private investors. Since there seems to be a potential need for air-conditioned facilities for inmates I just thought I’d take a chance with some counseling from our jail consultant, to write the judge a letter and let him know about our facility and where we’re located in case he might have any interest.”

Price says he’s not sure when or if he’ll hear from Ellison about the offer. But Price says if the prison in Newton County could be put to use,  it would help out the local economy.

“When the facility closed down in 2012, a number of people here lost their jobs,” he says. “Some have moved off; some are still here without jobs. So it would certainly help some of the folks get jobs and bring some revenue in here and help some dollars circulate within the county.”

Whether or not Ellison takes Newton County up on its offer, he’s already certain to face opposition from the state of Texas.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already vowed to fight Ellison’s decision.

Gov. Greg Abbott has expanded the agenda for Texas’s current special legislative session.  He did so just after midnight Thursday, soon after the Texas Senate passed legislation that will keep a handful of state agencies open and running.

Abbott said the legislature couldn’t act on other bills until that bit of business was finished.

Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw read Abbott’s proclamation in the chamber.

“Now therefore I, Greg Abbott, Governor of the state of Texas, do hereby present the following subjects to the 85thtTexas Legislature first called session for consideration.”

Lawmakers now have 19 new items to consider and only 27 days left in the special session.

Republican senators have done everything they can to speed up the special session and get to the governor’s agenda items, over the objections of Democrats. However, the Texas House doesn’t seem as rushed. A House committee will wait until next week to consider its own sunset bill.

Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday for a hearing on her nomination to be President Donald Trump’s ambassador to NATO.

Current Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz introduced Hutchison.