Nearly every summer since the summer of 2007, Texas inmates in prisons controlled by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) have died of heat-related causes, most notably the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. 12 inmates have died since the summer of 2007, and numerous more have fallen ill, all because of extreme temperatures inside un-air-conditioned prisons. Of the 111 prisons run by the TDCJ, only 21 are fully air-conditioned, and those that are partially air-conditioned only provide air-conditioning in areas prison staff are located, like educational and medical rooms. Despite this, even prison employees are falling ill and fainting from the extreme indoor heats, which can reach over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Such prison conditions are clearly unconstitutional and against the Eighth Amendment’s provision protecting against “cruel and unusual punishments” despite the common belief that inmates deserve what they get. No human deserves these conditions, including inmates and prison workers.
Jails, unlike prisons, are required by law to maintain interior temperatures below 85 degrees Fahrenheit; if prisons had similar laws over them, then deaths could be prevented. Prisons could also be required to offer free access to cool water and/or showers; the current policy is generally cool water 3 times per day and showers daily or every other day. In either case, a policy change is required for TDCJ prisons to stop violating Eighth Amendment rights. Such a policy change has already been proposed by former inmates and families of inmates that have filed lawsuits in cases of heat-related deaths and illness and the New Orleans federal appeals court has ruled that the conditions in TDCJ prisons are unconstitutional. Despite all that, the TDCJ refuses to change its policies.
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