Texas Inmates Testify About Need for AC In State Prisons

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelJune 21, 2017 1:16 pm

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

Fort Worth is one of the few major cities in Texas not to join a legal challenge against Senate Bill 4, the law that bans so-called “sanctuary cities.”

That’s in spite of about 100 protestors gathering at Fort Worth City Hall last night urging the city council to do just that.

State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. (D-Fort Worth) joined the advocates.

“If anyone in this council chamber, mayor or council, believes that they or someone they know will not be affected then they are wrong. So why wait?” Romero said.

When the Fort Worth City Council met last night, it did not take up the question of whether to join Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso in the legal fight against SB4.

Elderly and sick inmates at a state prison in Navasota – near Houston – are asking a federal judge for emergency relief from indoor heat this summer.

Most state prisons do not provide air-conditioning in living areas, and a federal civil rights lawsuit notes 22 Texas inmates have died in state facilities over the last 20 years due to heat-related illnesses.

Earlier this week, the six plaintiffs from the Wallace Pack Unit told U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison how the heat affects them.

“The hardest part for them is sleeping ­– they can’t sleep at night. They toss, they turn. Their beds are wet from sweat. A lot of them sleep on the hard concrete floor because it’s a little bit cooler,” says Gabrielle Banks, a Houston Chronicle reporter who was in the courtroom.

Lawyers for the inmates are arguing that being held in a facility that tops 100 degrees amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

One of those lawyers is Scott Medlock with Austin-based Edwards Law.

He says the cost of air-conditioning shouldn’t be a barrier for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which has argued it’s too expensive.

“What’s really shocking is that until they got sued in these cases no one from the [Texas] Department of Criminal Justice had even looked at what it would cost,” Medlock says.

The cost of keeping inmates cool this summer might not actually be that high.

“The plaintiffs called a witness who’s an expert in putting in major systems like this and he looked at the facility and he estimated that it would cost $100,000 to put in cool air for the summer, to put in air-conditioning just for the summer,” Banks says.

While this would just be a temporary fix for inmates at the Pack Unit, Medlock says he hopes it sets a precedent compelling Texas to provide air-conditioning in all state prisons – something that is the norm in other states.

“Places like Arizona’s prisons are all air-conditioned. Arkansas’ prisons are all air-conditioned,” he says.

He says county jails in Texas have been required to be air-conditioned since the late 1970s.

The hearing for emergency assistance is expected to last through next week.

Houston is one of three cities where ride-hailing company Uber is making tipping available through their app for the first time.

The other two cities are Minneapolis and Seattle.