Texas Transfers Heat-Sensitive Prisoners to Air-Conditioned Units

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelAugust 9, 2017 2:04 pm

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

Starting today, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice begins moving more than 1,000 heat-sensitive inmates. The prisoners are being transferred from the sweltering Wallace Pack Unit north of Houston to 11 different air-conditioned facilities.

Last month – a federal judge ordered the state to find a way to create cooler conditions for prisoners with health issues during the summer.

“Despite testimony that they could not transfer inmates – following the order, the Department of Criminal Justice found more than a thousand placements,” says Austin-based attorney Jeff Edwards. He and a team from his firm – Edwards Law – are representing Pack Unit inmates in their ongoing lawsuit against the state.

Edwards says the relocation is a temporary victory – but there’s a very simple solution to this ongoing problem: air-conditioning.

“Virtually every public building in the state of Texas other than state-run prison facilities are air-conditioned or temperature controlled,” he says. “That includes federal prisons, that includes county jails, that includes city jails, so as society evolves so do their standards of living.”

Since 1998, there have been 23 heat-related deaths in Texas prisons.

But Edwards says before this case, the state hadn’t looked at what it would cost to install air-conditioning in its prisons. He says this speaks to what he considers a philosophy at the TDCJ that Texans don’t care about what happens to prisoners.

“And in my experience – Republican, Democrat – is that most Texans do care,” he says.

He adds that installing air-conditioning in state prisons is especially important in Texas where people typically receive longer sentences, creating an older, medically sensitive prison population.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking a federal appeals court to let the state cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. He filed a brief with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court Tuesday.

“We strongly support the attorney general’s filings, we believe Planned Parenthood should not be eligible to be a Medicaid provider because they have clearly violated federal law,” says Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion Texas Alliance for Life.

The violation of federal law Pojman is talking about has to do with secretly-recorded and heavily edited videos of Planned Parenthood staffers discussing fetal tissue donation. Even though investigations into those videos in 13 states have resulted in no criminal charges against Planned Parenthood, Paxton mentions them in the brief.

Earlier this year a federal judge blocked the state’s efforts to defund the organization. Planned Parenthood says those funds cover non-abortion services to more than 10,000 low-income women. A recent study from the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities found that Texas women lost access to health care services when the state excluded Planned Parenthood from the state’s Women’s Health Program.

Without Medicaid funding, women would lose access to a number of health services, “like the cervical cancer screening, STD treatment, HIV testing, birth control so they can plan and space a healthy pregnancy,” says Sarah Wheat, with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas

Federal courts have consistently thwarted Republican-controlled states from denying Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood over the videos.