Days after a federal judge threatened to jail Texas prison officials for violating a settlement agreement to put inmates in air conditioned housing, the top Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) leader admitted that the agency broke federal orders and that keeping inmates in temperatures above 100 degrees creates a serious health risk, the Texas Tribune reports. TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier said under oath “we failed as an agency” in not monitoring the temperatures on units where his agency houses inmates who are supposed to be protected by a federal lawsuit settlement. Collier acknowledged there had been little to no discipline yet for those responsible for one admitted violation.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison showed concern with what he has called “indefensible” conduct by the agency. He noted a continuing “factual disconnect” on prison temperatures, said someone had lied in an effort to postpone an emergency inspection of conditions at one prison, and expressed distrust in how well TDCJ will comply with the settlement in the future. The case is a years-long one originating at the William Pack prison near College Station. In 2014, several inmates sued the department for keeping them in uncooled housing where temperatures routinely surpass 100 degrees. The Pack prison is one of 75 Texas prison facilities that doesn’t have air conditioning in housing areas. In 2017, Ellison ruled that keeping vulnerable inmates in sweltering temperatures was cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered some inmates to be placed in air conditioned beds. TDCJ later agreeing to air condition the Pack prison and keep all prisoners in air conditioning even if they were later moved to another prison facility. Since 1998, the department has reported nearly two dozen prisoner heat-related deaths.