"In the brutal heat of summer, many Texans flee to shopping malls, movie theaters and other air-conditioned havens to keep cool. But for one segment of the population, there is literally no escape from triple-digit temperatures: state prison inmates.
Only 21 of the 111 prisons overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency, are fully air-conditioned. Many of the prisons that do have air-conditioning in areas where medical services or educational programs are provided to inmates do not offer it in the sections where they live.
Inmates and their families have complained for years about the heat and lack of air-conditioning in the summertime, but the issue has taken on a new urgency. An appeal is pending in a lawsuit initially filed in 2008 by a former inmate claiming that 54 prisoners were exposed to Death Valley-like conditions at a South Texas prison where the heat index exceeded 126 degrees for 10 days indoors. And several inmates at other prisons died of heat-related causes last summer; a lawsuit was filed Tuesday in one of those deaths.
Texas has long had a reputation for running some of the toughest prisons in the country, but inmates and their advocates say the overheated conditions violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. They accuse prison officials of failing to supply enough fans, ventilation and water and refusing to follow local and national prison standards.
A Texas law requires county jails to maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees, but the law does not apply to state prisons. The American Correctional Association recommends that temperature and humidity be mechanically raised or lowered to acceptable levels." (More)