Texas Prison Inmates Sue Over No A/C
By Betty Stephens
Texas Prison Inmates sue over no A/C and the number of deaths due to heat related causes.
The suit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights clinic on behalf of the prisoners, isn’t seeking monetary damages. It seeks cooler temperatures for the prisoners. Eighty-eight degrees to be exact.
The lawsuit, broadly concerned about the lack of air conditioning across state facilities, centers on a facility in Navasota, Texas, known as the Wallace Pack Unit. Located about 70 miles northwest of Houston, the facility houses about 1,400 men. They have no air conditioning, and the windows which do open provide little relief, the suit claims, leading to temperatures inside that often exceed those outside.
20 deaths were reported since 1998 and details names, ages and internal body temperatures of the victims, including cases where the body temperature recorded was well over 100 degrees. Temperatures inside the prison, which was not air conditioned, reached a heat index of 130 degrees. Expert testimony established the temperature during the summer of 2008 temperatures reached “extreme caution,” “danger,” or “extreme danger” levels identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 51 days. The court held “Allowing a prisoner to be exposed to extreme temperatures can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” “A reasonable jury could find that the conditions of confinement resulted in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities, the court ruled.
“This is a huge victory for all Texas prisoners,” said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, who represented Mr. Blackmon. “Hopefully this decision will force TDCJ to reconsider housing prisoners in such dangerous conditions.
There is air conditioning in some parts of the facility. The law library, education building and visitation center all are equipped with air conditioning, according to the complaint, but the inmates are “rarely allowed” in these areas. The complaint also said that the warden’s office and other administrative buildings have air conditioning.