Lawsuit Says 2011 Heat Wave Was a Death Sentence for Texas Prisoners

The New York Times says last summer's record-breaking heat wave had a grim impact on Texas, playing a role in the deaths of roughly 150 people. Many of them were found in their homes or apartments, but a few were discovered somewhere else — in their prison cells. Ten inmates of the state prison system died of heat-related causes last summer in a 26-day period in July and August, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners' rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state prisons puts inmates' lives at risk.

Lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the state prison agency in federal court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file additional wrongful-death lawsuits. The 10 inmates who died last summer were housed in areas that lacked air-conditioning, and several had collapsed or lost consciousness while they were in their cells. All of them were found to have died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees, according to autopsy reports and the state's prison agency. Other factors contributed to their deaths. All but three of them had hypertension, and some were obese, had heart disease or were taking antipsychotic medications, which can affect the body's ability to regulate heat.

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