The Texas Civil Rights Project and an Austin lawyer yesterday filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court for a family that says officials caused an inmate’s death by keeping him in the sweltering Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas, where he had a seizure and fell from his bunk bed, reports the New York Times. Only 21 of the 111 prisons overseen by Texas are fully air-conditioned. Many prisons that have air-conditioning in areas where medical services or educational programs are provided to inmates do not offer it in the sections where they live.
Inmates and their families have complained for years about the heat and lack of air-conditioning in the summertime, but the issue has taken on a new urgency. An appeal is pending in a lawsuit initially filed in 2008 by a former inmate claiming that 54 prisoners were exposed to Death Valley-like conditions at a South Texas prison where the heat index exceeded 126 degrees for 10 days indoors. “The Constitution doesn't require a comfortable prison, but it requires a safe and humane prison,” said Scott Medlock of the civil rights project. “Housing prisoners in these temperatures is brutal.” A prison agency spokesman, Jason Clark, said that many prison units were built before air-conditioning was commonly installed, and that many others built later in the 1980s and 1990s did not include air-conditioning because of the additional construction, maintenance, and utility costs. “The agency is committed to making sure that all are safe during the extreme heat,” Clark said.