Relief is in sight for hundreds of heat-sensitive inmates at the Pack Unit prison northwest of Houston, reports the Houston Chronicle. State officials today will roll out a plan for providing cool living quarters for medically vulnerable inmates at the geriatric facility after a federal judge found the swampy indoor conditions amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.” U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison has not ordered the state to install air conditioning. His injunction on July 19 called for cooled beds for 475 inmates who take medication or have diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that make it hard for their bodies to fight the heat.
The ruling marked a turning point in a federal civil rights lawsuit that has drawn national attention to the rights of people who lack the authority to adjust the thermostat and the freedom to leave the premises. Witnesses testified that inmates and guards alike had fainted from indoor temperatures that sometimes surpass 100 degrees. One inmate testified about heat-induced vomiting and another recalled a headache that felt like an ice pick to the brain. Ellison said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice obstructed remedies and showed “deliberate indifference” to inmate suffering. About 80 percent of Texas prison inmates are assigned to living units without air conditioning. Since 1977, county jails across Texas have required that indoor temperature be kept between 65 and 85 degrees. All but seven of the 122 facilities run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons offer air conditioning.