This week, a federal appeals court ruled that Louisiana is not required to install air conditioning for death row inmates in its main state prison. Despite the decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans also ruled that the same prison violated three death row inmates’ constitutional rights by subjecting them to extreme heat that regularly topped 100 degrees in the summer.
Summer temperatures in Texas often reach or surpass Louisiana’s heat index, so it begs the question: Are Texas death row inmates’ constitutional rights are being violated as well? Ariel E. Dulitzky, head of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, details how the Louisiana ruling could impact Texas prisons.
On the condition of Texas prisons:
“There are 109 prisons [in Texas]. There are very, very few with air conditioning. The heat index in some of these prisons … could go up to 150 degrees. Due to that extreme heat, people die. Since 2007, at least 14 inmates died in Texas prisons due to extreme heat. Imagine, it’s not only that you are with that extreme heat; you don’t have access to cold water. Many times you don’t have access to ice … for sure, you don’t have access to areas where there is air conditioning.”
On how Texas prison officials can remedy this situation:
“I hope that they monitor and screen more inmates with medical preconditions. I hope that they provide more ice water. I hope that they provide more access to showers [and] provide more access to air-conditioned areas. … Those are the minimal things that they have to do.”
On lawsuits filed against Texas prisons over extreme heat:
“There are different types of lawsuits. Some are the families of those who died that are suing Texas; there are some cases of inmates suing. People are dying. The types of condition that the court said in Louisiana are insufficient are the types of conditions that are present in Texas.”
On the lack of conversation around this issue:
“Usually the issue of inmates is an unpopular issue, it’s not the concern of society in general. People tend to believe that when we lock up inmates for the crimes that they committed, they lose all their rights. That’s not true. We assume a responsibility to protect the rights of those people that are in our prisons.”
Audio for the story will be posted shortly.