It is swelter season in Texas, and for most of the 150,000 inmates in the state’s sprawling prison system, it means another summer of months in cells where temperatures can climb north of 100 degrees, reports the Dallas Morning News.
How many more summer prisoners live without air conditioning will depend on how and when the courts rule in a years-long fight between prisoner advocates and Texas corrections officials. The two sides are locked in a battle over whether super-heated conditions are unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and jeopardize inmates’ lives. Critics say the extreme heat is particularly harmful for the thousands of inmates who are elderly or suffer from medical or mental health conditions. They want the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide air conditioning.
The state contends that it takes adequate measures to ensure the safety of inmates and staff and that adding air conditioning to aging buildings would be prohibitively expensive. Officials haven’t estimated the exact cost to add it or run it. “The well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency, and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat,” said spokesman Jason Clark. Only 30 of Texas’ 109 prison units are fully air-conditioned. Since 1998, prisoner advocates say, at least 20 inmates have died from heat-related causes. To provide relief, Clark said, prisons offer inmates ice and water and allow them to take additional showers and wear shorts, among other measures.