Families of eight Texas inmates who died of heatstroke behind bars have found an ally in their fight for compensation: state corrections officers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the union representing prison workers in Texas, where two-thirds of the 109 state prisons lack air conditioning in housing areas, supports the families’ wrongful-death suits. The union, which says that stifling heat is putting corrections officers in danger, set up a website to collect information from officers who have had heat-related illnesses on the job.
Corrections officers say the heat index inside facilities is often as high as 130 degrees. They said they were driven to speak out after learning that the state spent $750,000 in June to buy six new barns with exhaust fans and misters to cool pigs raised for inmate consumption. “We don’t keep our animals in these type of conditions and that speaks volumes,” said Lance Lowry, who worked as a corrections officer for 13 years and heads the Huntsville, Tx.-based local of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union, which represents many prison workers. Prison advocates say the issue has become more serious in several southern states because of the increase in older inmates, who are more susceptible to heat-related illness. The number of U.S. inmates over 55 has grown to 125,000 from 8,800 since 1980—a 1,300% increase. Heat conditions can put inmates and officers on edge, exacerbating overcrowding problems.