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.

Read more at: http://www.utexas.edu/know/2014/06/26/summer-heat-kills-inmates-in-prisons-and-that-needs-to-change/

California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides

This comes from the LA Times:

Feb. 28th, 2013
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The report warned that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state’s prison care crisis is over.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the stump that California’s prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving good care.

But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.

New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own consultant warning that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.

Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told corrections officials in 2011 that the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take their own lives.

His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes and possessions and robed in a “safety smock.” Hayes concluded that such conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon after.

The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.

The report says the state’s handling of suicidal inmates is “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic.” Hayes noted that guards, not mental health workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch. He found lapses in care — lengthy delays in checking on the prisoners, failure to attempt CPR — in 68% of the cases he studied. Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports after an inmate’s death.

Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state’s resolve to improve inmate mental health care.

His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his contract occurred.

“When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was buried,” Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes’ work, wrote in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in California in 2012, above the national average.

Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared they have been working since Jan. 23 “under protest.”

The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison’s psychiatric program, run by the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.

Read the rest here

Free Lynne Stewart!


The Friends of Marcia Powell heard from Lynne Stewart today, in response to a postcard we sent her from the First Amendment / Anti-Arpaio Rally at the Cronkite School of Broadcasting a month or so ago.


As an attorney Lynne represented many political prisoners from our great liberation movements pro bono, in many cases, over the past few decades. That’s the real reason why the federal government wants to kill her, regardless of what party is in power. Hit her site to see why this beautiful, courageous woman is fighting cancer and the Justice Department from behind bars now herself.

If you want to write to a political prisoner and have already done your www.mailart4mumia.org project (mail your art to the White House and DOJ the week of April 24), drop a note of support to Lynne at:

Lynne Stewart (53504-054)
MCC – NY

150 Park Row

New York, New York 10007

You can also do some artwork similar to the campaign for Mumia ( or steal mine and make postcards out of it – I just messed with the color from and ordinary chalked sidewalk). We’ll hit the White House, Justice Department, US Congress members, the Washington Post, and everyone else we can think of with “Free Lynne Stewart”. She’s the one of all the political prisoners who they themselves are probably rooting for the most right now – like Mumia, her life is in danger.