70% of TDCJ facilities are NOT fully Air Conditioned
Texas is known for its extreme heat, but in recent years we have dealt with frigid temperatures as well. Extreme heat during the Summer months, with temperatures routinely in the triple digits without adequate air-conditioning and ventilation cuppled with high humidity.Texas, in particular, has experienced an increase in “prolonged excessively hot temperatures” over the course of recent decades. With documented temperatures within the prisons as high as 150 degrees.
To survive incarcerated people must flood their toilets and lay down in the water to try to cool their bodies.
Texas jail standards require temperature control between 65 and 85 degrees in all Texas jails. At full capacity TDCJ can house up to155,000 people, which leaves the potential of approximately 136,658 (April 2023) incarcerated citizens suffering without humane temperatures and an unknown number of officers and staff. TPCA has been fighting to require those same standards for all Texas prisons. The extreme temperatures are inhumane, a violation of 8th Amendment rights, deadly, and affect the health and mental well-being of all who live and work in the prison system. TDCJ has instituted limited mitigating factors that are woefully inadequate and due to constant staffing issues impossible to maintain. (Extreme Temperatures and Covid 19 in Texas Prisons, 2022) These inhumane temperatures ultimately have lead to death, (Provision of Air-Conditioning and Heat-Related Mortality in Texas Prisons, 2022) health crisis, litigation, increased workman compensation claims, and exacerbated medical costs due to the toll the heat takes on populations members who are rapidly aging and are statistically more like to have severe health issues.This torture and these deaths are preventable. Extreme Heat also affects the mental, physical, and financial well-being of incarcerated people's families and their children. Air Conditioning is as old as 1902, 91% of American households have AC. (2021, US Census Bureau) and 95% of Texas households have AC (2020,Residential Energy Consumption Survey). Air conditioning is a norm in both American homes and cars. In 1940 Packard was the first car to offer factory-installed air-conditioning. By 1969, more than half of all new cars sold were equipped with A/C. (2106, Motor Trend, Automotive Air Conditioning History). Although Houston, Texs is the most air conditioned city in the world. (American Housing Survey, 2022).In the Houston area, there are 13 prison units that house 21,690 incarcerated people without AC (May 2023). In 2022 the city of Amarillo shut down, at the mayors orders, due to a heat wave. The Clements Unit near Amarillo house 3798 people and 1460 of those beds are without AC (2022). Legislation was filed during the 2023 legislative session that requires landlords to repair faulty AC within a reasonable amount of time, or provide a portable AC system until repairs are made (HB 2592, Cole) and thier are Texas laws that protect animals from extreme heat, yet not it's Incarcerated citizens.
John Oliver talks about the heat in Texas Prisons
John Oliver explains how the failure to air-condition prisons can cause both physical and mental health issues for incarcerated people, and why the solution is simpler than you might think.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The condtions of tortureous heat with inthe Texas prisons has been cited as cruel and unuasual punishment by several International human rights organizations, Humanitarian Organizations, Scottish Judge, Texas Judge Ellison, and advocates. Judge Ellison ruled this treatmentat to be a violation of 8th Amedment Rights.
These inhumane conditions MUST change! Texas can do better, and the Texas House of Representatives agrees and has passed bills for the last two sessions that provide AC for Texas prisons. During the 2023 legislative session the Texas House also included financing for this need in their budget bills and add funding as a rider to the Senate's bill. The Texas Senate, however, appears unconcerned with these inhuman conditions and the danger it causes for the people they are responsible for and the state employees.
Medical Impacts of Heat
“I want to make you all aware of the inhumane living conditions we’re living under… Temperatures and heat indexes have been in the 90’s and 100’s lately… I personally have Type II diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure and I shouldn’t even be assigned housing on this row but they don’t really care about
the inmate's health.”
McConnell Unit 2021
Incarcerated people are more likely than the general population to report having a chronic illness. About half of persons incarcerated in local jails or state and federal prisons have reported having a chronic medical condition. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, incarcerated people in the U.S. are “1.5 times more likely than persons in the standardized general population to report ever having high blood pressure,
diabetes, or asthma. Exposure to high temperatures can cause a number of heat-related illnesses, ranging from mild ailments, such as heat cramps, to life-threatening heat strokes, which can result in death. Incarcerated people frequently described how their medical vulnerabilities impact their experience with excessive heat, as well as how excessive heat continuously degrades their health. Given the high heat index over multiple days, thier internal organs are are literly being cooked.
There are also strong links to hygiene problems, anxiety-related psychological illness, contributing to the spreadof diseases and hundreds of other illnesses.
With longer sentences, there has been and will continue to be an increase in elderly incarcerated individuals who are at risk for heat-related illness. Many incarcerated individuals are prescribed Heat sensitive medications that cannot be properly stored in extreme heat. Many are prescribed psychotropic medications which don't allow the body to cool by sweating, those individuals more susceptible to extreme heat and ofen times choose between taking thier medication or possible death due to thier condtion.
Extreme Temperatures can be a causal factor for both Medical and Psychological problems. For example- A Incarcerated Veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD and diabetes. The extreme heatmay exasperate their PTSD symptoms, which may present as a behavioral problem. TheVeteran in our exmple is also taking medication for his diabetes, which may not allow his body to sweat.Therefore his body can't deal with the heat, and he goes into cardiac arrest and dies.
Heat-Related Deaths and Suicides
Every year deaths, completed suicides, suicide attempts, and aggression increase during the summer months. Recent Colaborative Research with Dr. Julie Skahra (Provision of Air-Conditioning and Heat-Related Mortality in Texas Prisons, 2022) demonstrated that an average of 14 deaths per year, approximately between 2001 to 2019. Overall 13% of mortality or 271 deaths may be attributable to extreme heat during warm months in Texas prisons without AC vs no deaths associated with heat in prisons with AC. "Air conditioning (AC) is one of the most successful strategies in mitigating the mortality risk associated with heat exposure."
The limited rehabilitative programs that TDCJ has are unit specific. We estimate that thousands of incarcerated individuals meet the criteria for having medical heat restrictions. With that said, there are too many incarcerated individuals at various units within the system to have them all move to one unit or even spread out to the 30 units within the system that do have air conditioning. Currently, some of those individuals are being forced into the few beds within restrictive housing areas, which has caused a loss of privileges, visitation, and oftentimes phone calls with loved ones. Those privileges have been found to be essential for resiliency, family relationships, and recidivism rates. Therefore, if an incarcerated individual cannot transfer to one of those particular units, then they are unable to participate in the rehabilitative programs, which may then impact their parole status.