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Texas Prisoners Suffering in Heat Wave Without AC

Texas Prisoners Suffering in Heat Wave Without AC

The Southwest is still experiencing a catastrophic heat wave, and inmates are often overlooked as victims. In Texas, where over 100,000 offenders are housed in overcrowded, antiquated prisons without air conditioning, this problem is particularly acute. An inmate told TPR that a barbecue on a hot day is the perfect analogy for life in a Texas jail cell without air conditioning.

“It’s like you’re standing over a grill all day,” he said. Due to restrictions imposed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, TPR is unable to disclose his identity. He was also concerned about reprisal from higher-ups. He described how he constantly sweats throughout the day and night. He keeps soaking himself with water throughout the day in an effort to keep from overheating.

“The lower you are, the cooler it is, so I put water on my ground and lay in it sometimes. It’s just me pretty much naked in the cell,” he said. The average temperature inside the 68 jails in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice without air conditioning was well over 85 degrees last month, according to data obtained by a state senator.

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A county jail is not allowed to have temps above 85 degrees for safety reasons. However, the TDCJ reports that temperatures inside several state jails hit 106 degrees last month. Those temperatures were not measured during the hottest time of day in the facilities. The state takes its temperature readings at 3 p.m., which is often the hottest portion of the day, but not inside a building where the temperature is a cumulative effect of the preceding hours.

Temperature predictions range up to 115 degrees. Supporters claim that the highs are much greater in buildings of greater height, where the heat may be felt on the third and fourth levels. Don Aldaco went 14 years without a cool cell in Texas jails. He estimated that the third and fourth levels of the Ferguson Unit were well over 150 degrees.

“And sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night where I’m pouring sweat, you know. I’m pouring sweat, but I’m thinking that I’ve got something crawling on me, but it’s the actual sweat pouring off your body,” he said. On the hottest days, Aldaco said he was lucky to get three hours of sleep. He was finally released from prison in April, and this summer will be his first in over ten years.

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“I’ve been able to go outside when it’s 120, 115 with the heat index. And I get in my car, and it’s hot. It’s extremely hot. That’s nothing compared to being in prison,” he said. Inmates who are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures are given extra care by prison officials, according to a spokesman for the state prison system.

Personal fans are permitted, and there is limited access to air conditioning or other forms of relief for those who need it. The organization has spent the last few years expanding the availability of cooled beds. Air conditioning has been installed in all 3,598 beds at TDCJ as of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

There is also a current project that will install 5,861 cooled beds in FY 23. According to TDCJ spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez, “this will bring the total to 9,459 beds added between FY18-23.” The state’s 145,000 inmates are housed in around 42,000 air-conditioned cells. An unidentified inmate in a North Texas facility told TPR that these initiatives aren’t sufficient.

Inmates were being mistreated, and corrections personnel said it was because of a lack of help. “Their excuse for everything is the staff. We’re not getting showers — you might get to shower once or twice a week. You might go to recreation once or twice a week. You get cold water once or twice today, and the excuse always is staff, staff, staff,” he said.

The inmate claimed he was worried about his physical well-being. Kiera Henderson, a 24-year-old from Murray Unit an hour west of Waco, was also in this situation. It’s asthma, man. She wrote, “I feel as if I can’t think straight, and I get angry, because of the heat.” I am in solitary confinement due to administrative segregation. It’s so hot that even with the windows closed, a piece of candy left out on a table will melt.

According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2022, 271 inmates died in Texas prisons without air conditioning between 2001 and 2019. The total number of inmate deaths in TDCJ facilities increased by more than 20% over the previous six weeks and by about a third from the same period in the considerably milder summer of 2021.1 Between June 1 and July 13, 78 inmates died.

Despite this, heat-related deaths have been completely absent from the state for over a decade. Members of the Texas House, including Democratic Representative Joe Moody, have been trying to enact legislation to air condition state jails for years. “I think it is very well documented that heat has contributed to deaths in this prison system,” Moody said.

“There’s no need for us to continue to allow folks to cook — literally cook — in our prisons. And that’s something we should always find unacceptable,” he said. The most recent legislative session ended with another defeat for Moody’s plan. More than $500 million that would have significantly boosted air conditioning in prisons across the system was cut from the budget by the Republican-dominated state Senate. However, the legislation may be revived in a future special session.

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