Texas Inmates Endure Extreme Heat: Advocates Allege Cruel Conditions

April signals the beginning of blistering heat for much of Texas. While the summer heat is uncomfortable for many, it can be deadly for the people incarcerated in Texas’ prison system where temperatures regularly reach triple digits. Prison rights advocates have filed a complaint against Texas Department of Criminal Justice executive director Bryan Collier, arguing that the lack of air conditioning in the majority of Texas prisons amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Struggle Within Uncooled Prisons

The filing comes from four nonprofit organizations who are joining a lawsuit originally filed last August by Bernie Tiede, an inmate who suffered a medical crisis after being housed in a Huntsville cell that reached temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. Tiede, a well-known offender whose 1996 murder of a wealthy widow inspired the film “Bernie,” was moved to an air-conditioned cell following a court order, but he’s not guaranteed to stay there this year.

Inmate heat suffering

A Widespread Issue

Monday’s filing expands the plaintiffs to include every inmate incarcerated in uncooled Texas prisons, which have led to the deaths of dozens of Texas inmates and cost the state millions of dollars as it fights wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits. The plaintiffs ask that an Austin federal judge declare the state’s prison policy unconstitutional and require that prisons be kept under 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Texas jails are already required to keep facilities cooler than 85 degrees, and federal prisons in Texas have a 76-degree maximum. Between June and August last year, the average temperature was 85.3 degrees — the second hottest on record behind 2011. And this year does not look to be much cooler.

The most recent winter season ranked warmest on record for the contiguous U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists have found that climate change has resulted in more severe and longer-lasting heat waves. In the last decade, Texas has experienced over 1,000 days of record-breaking heat, compared to a normal decade. In the hot summer months, those concrete and metal cells can reach over 130 degrees, formerly incarcerated Texans said during a Monday press conference.


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