Some 22 people have died as a result of indoor weather conditions at 15 Texas prisons since 1998. Most of the state’s prisons do not have air conditioning in living areas. Lawyers are defending the rights of current and future inmates in a lawsuit that will be heard in Houston this week, the Houston Chronicle reports. The case centers around six inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, about 75 miles northwest of downtown Houston, who argue that the cooling mechanisms the prison provides – fans, showers and cool drinking water – won’t protect inmates from the dangers of extreme heat. Being locked inside with humidity and temperatures topping 100 degrees, say the plaintiffs, is cruel and unusual punishment.
The lawyers are requesting immediate relief for all Wallace Pack inmates – healthy and sick, young and old. State criminal justice officials argue that it’s too expensive to provide air conditioning throughout housing units. They say the warden and top administrators understand the danger of rising indoor temperatures during heat waves and take steps to mitigate it. Jason Clark, a spokesman for the state criminal justice department says, “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.” Water and ice are provided to staff and inmates; activity is restricted during the hottest hours of the day; and staff is trained to identify symptoms of heat-related illnesses and refer people for treatment. The inmates, represented by Austin-based Edwards Law, contend such efforts are inadequate.