Summer Heat Kills Inmates in Prisons, and That Needs to Change

From: University of Texas – Austin

June 26, 2014

By Ariel Dulitzky, Director of the Human Rights Clinic; Alex Goeman & Samantha Chen, Students of the Human Rights Clinic

Searing heat and suffocating humidity levels are upon us here in the Southern states. In Texas, residents know that summers are brutal, but while we may be proud of our ability to withstand such extreme conditions, that cold blast of air conditioning when we walk indoors is a welcome respite from the heat outside. In fact, prolonged exposure to temperatures as low as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, when combined with high humidity levels, can put even the healthiest individuals in extreme danger. Despite knowing of these dangers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has declined to provide air conditioners in most inmate housing areas, or even to set maximum temperature standards in these areas. This needs to change.

Every summer, the TDCJ subjects its prisoners to deadly temperature and humidity levels, and violates prisoners’ human and constitutional rights and their rights to health, life and dignity. Some note that many law abiding Texans do not have air conditioning in their homes. However, these individuals have the freedom and capability to escape deadly summer heat by entering air-conditioned buildings such as libraries or movie theaters. They can take showers and drink water as many times as they want. TDCJ inmates, on the other hand, spend much of their time locked in enclosed concrete and metal structures, where temperatures often exceed 100 degrees during the summer months.

As we noted in our report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” at least 14 heat-related deaths have been documented at TDCJ facilities since 2007. Many of these inmates had pre-existing health conditions or were taking medications that rendered them heat-sensitive, yet the TDCJ did not properly provide cooled living areas. While the TDCJ uses ventilation and fans indoors, these measures do not protect against heat illnesses in high temperatures and humidity. To the contrary, fans can accelerate heat-related illnesses in such conditions.

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Mansfield Correctional Uses Food as Punishment

From our email contact:
July 9th 2012

Ohio has been experiencing an extreme heat wave the past weeks causing deaths as reported by the Columbus Dispatch. Inmates in the 1B pod at Mansfield had a peaceful sit out on Friday 6th of July, related to their recreation time which has been severely limited as a result of the new Tiered system Gary Mohr has implemented. 
The inmates were told by Lt. Hoy they would get an extra hour of recreation time and the sit out ended as peacefully as it started. But as a result of this peaceful demonstration they were punished Saturday by not being fed any food until 5 pm on Saturday – now I find this appalling as we know not all inmates can afford commissary food that they stockpile in their cell. And with the heat, the body uses more energy to try to cool itself. The inmates were also kept in their cells with no air movement (they do not have air conditioned cells) to assist the body with cooling itself down. 
Many inmates reported feeling ill.  Then on Sunday they did not get fed until 3:30 pm. These inmates did not get a hot dinner but a bagged bologna sandwich while other blocks received hot meals. This lack of nutrition as punishment I find repulsive as I do not treat my pets in this manner nor would I expect fellow man to be treated in this manner by someone who has control over him. These are people the prison is dealing with, they are not animals but are being treated worse than we treat animals, by a system that has control over them. Would you leave a pet in a closet with no air movement or air conditioning when it is over 100 degrees?
The problem with this system is there is no oversight by people not associated with the system. Allowing them to police themselves is not working and allows cruelty and inhumane treatment to continue.