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Extreme Temperatures

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If the AC broke in your home, how long would you wait to get it fixed?!?

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.

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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.

#Under85Degrees

 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, 2022demonstrated 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."

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"Every time I get in a car, I take a moment...."
Affected Family Member
June 2022

Impacts on Families
How you ask? There is an addtional financial burden for families who puchase items to help thier loved ones experience some relief and attempt to stay hydrated.  Every summer those that have loved ones in the system worry, obsessively check the weather reports, schedule visits on the hottest days to try to give their loved ones a break from the heat, and pray that this isn't the summer that their loved one has a serious medical crisis or dies.

Stories From Those Impacted

"My husband isn't leaving to get food because it's so hot it
makes him sick, so what's the point."
Affected Family Member
June 2022

Rehabilitation Efforts

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.

#TexasPrisonsAreOvens

Staff & Saftey

"It's bad for the officers too."
Incarcerated Person
Polunsky Unit
May 2021

"If I arrive to work at 6:45 am, by 7:15 I am covered in sweat."
Officer 2022

“Officer X (name withheld in this email) was taking 12:30 count at the Murray Unit, when he passed out from the heat. A full dorm of women witnessed this and heard his head hitting HARD like a bowling ball on the concrete floor. No officers witnessed this. The women started screaming and my daughter went to the door to get some other guards’ attention. Now this could have been really bad, a whole dorm of unsupervised women and an unconscious guard. As poor Officer X was escorted off the dorm in a wheelchair, he was exhibiting seizure-like twitching movements. This should have been caught on camera between 12:30 and 13:05 on July 23rd, 2018.”

Staff turnover rates rise in the summer. This staffing crisis has been a long-running issue and contributes to many of the failures of heat mitigation policies. This heat puts undue stress on officers creating an unhealthy work environment, taxes employees' mental and physical resources and lowers morale. Without proper staffing numbers, Texans inside and outside of the system are less safe. This policy is also costly. Please refer to TPCA’S Cost Saving Report for a more in-depth analysis of the current cost of not providing humane temperatures within TDCJ.Extreme heat increases agitation of both population members and staff increasing risks for violence and conflict.  One of the heat mitigating methods is the use of large industrial fans. These industrial fans impede officers' ability to hear activity around them creating dangerous situations for all. These fans do not cool the space. they simply circulate the oppressive heat like a convection oven does. This does nothing to make the living and working areas safer. Due to a substantial burden on officers that are already depleted and suffering, and the extreme loss of staffed officers, protocol simply cannot be confidently and entirely adhered to. In a typical workplace, over worked employees may fail to follow protocol, but those failures rarely cause permanent injury or death. 
Heat related illness is a common summer occurrence which was exacerbated by Covid 19 and the necessity of PPE. Wearing layers of clothing (thick uniforms plus protective undergarments) and carrying weighty equipment  while regularly working 15-plus hours are just a few of the contributing factors that have led to the 409 state employees that have succumbed to heat-related illnesses in just the months of June, July, and August over the last ten years. (2011-2021).
As mentioned above, TDCJ has historically had a staffing problem with high officer turnover and has NEVER been fully staffed; however, the situation has now become dire, with a high 67.69 % (short 7613) in 2021 and currently approximately 30% understaffed. Over the last ten years, the turnover employment rate for corrections officers has steadily risen, from 22.40% in 2011 to 40.54% in 2021.  These dramatic shortages are NOT just due to under-market pay.  As evidenced by the trends of declining staffing numbers with every brutal Texas summer. These dismal working conditions are a factor and are often ignored, hidden, or swept under the rug. Prison employees go home every night exhausted from the extreme heat as well as the long overtime hours they are mandated to work due to officer shortages. 

“You never really get acclimated to the heat.”
Officer 2023

“If they put AC on ______ unit, I would be on cloud nine."
Officer 2022

“I've had friends pass out.” [on the job]
Officer 2022

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Mitigating Policies & Other States

TDCJ’s current heat directive policy is aimed at preventing heat-related injury. It is simply not working. As researchers and advocates, we receive reports and surveys that contain comments of: heat stroke, death, guards and incarcerated individuals passing out, being denied medical treatment or given inadequate treatment, denied access to respite areas, lack of water, and/or contaminated water. It is evident that the mitigating efforts which are provided to those incarcerated in housing areas are insufficient. Drinking water is regularly cited as an effective measure to mitigate heat-related injuries. Findings from this report demonstrate how current heat mitigation policies do not result in adequate protections against heat-related illness for incarcerated people. While it is the responsibility of TDCJ staff to provide ice to people who are incarcerated, some reports indicate that there are times when the ice contains dirt or other debris. The fight for humane temperatures is not just being fought in Texas. While it is true that Texas experiences more extreme heat conditions over longer time periods each year than most of the US does, climate change and extreme temperatures have begun to affect all prisons across the United States. (Purdum et al, Extreme Temperatures and Covid 19 in Texas Prisons, 2022)

In 2013, Texas spent $750,000 to air condition their pig bars, but continues to leave human beings in TDCJ documented temperatures up to 150 degrees.

You can help in this fight for humane temperatures. Send a letter or sign the petitions below. The action letters are editable so add your story and thoughts.

Action Letters
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Petitions

What can you do?

Take action now!

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TPCA Recommendations

Due to climate change Texas summers are becoming longer and hotter. The literature clearly indicates that the best way to mitigate heat is through the installation of  air conditioning. Therefore, the most effective and prudent option is to Immediately fund the installation Air Conditioning in ALL areas of ALL TDCJ facilities . Although their has been slow moving progress towards the installation of a minuscule amount of adequate temperature control those efforts are only amount to a "drop in the bucket" given the enormity of the Texas prison system. According to TDCJ's website a total of 58,464 (43, 572 Current and  14,892 In progress) cool beds will be provide within the next two years. The TDCJ system has the capacity to house over 155,000 people and has a current population of over 130,000 (LBB Dec. 2023).  THOUSANDS of incarcerated Texas Citizens will continue to be tortured by high humidity and brutal heat during every Texas Summer until haste is made to rectify these inhumane conditions. We also recommend the following:

  • Implementation and Enforcement of standard to maintain temperatures to  maintain 65 to 85 degrees.

  • Provide FREE bottled water to all incarcerated individuals, staff, and officers during the summers until permanent air conditioning is installed.

  • Provide temporary air conditioning in all facilities until permeate air conditioning can be installed.

  • Install electronic thermometers in multiple areas throughout each facility (living areas, cooking areas, multiple building levels etc.) that can be read by designated legislators or independent oversight committee.

  • Change language of shower policy to "everyday" showers as opposed to every three days and remove the language "at the discretion of the Warden" during the summer months.

  • Add other cooling methods to buildings such as reflective and heat consuming paint.

  • Restrict the use of "lockdowns" and "racking up" during the summer months.

For Our Lawmakers

Timeline of legislation
2019 Regular Session: First heat bills where filed by Representative Canales and Senator Menendez.
Senator Menedez' bill was not given a hearing and the House bills by Representative Canales died in committee. 

2021 Regular Session: Senator Menendez again filed a bill as did Representatives Canales, Sherman, and Rosenthal. Added to the demand for air conditioning was air purification systems as we were at the height of Covid and more prisoners and staff died in Texas than in any other state. Representative Canales bill passed the House floor but when received by the Senate the Finance Committee refused to hear it. 

2023 Regular Session: Senator Menendez again filed a bill as did Representatives Canales, Sherman, Rosenthal, and Bryant. Representatives Canales, Sherman, and Bryant's bills all received hearings by the Correction Committee. Representative Sherman's bill was voted out of committee. Representative Canales' bill was voted out of committee and passed the House Floor, was again assigned to the Senate Finance committee, were did not received a hearing. The House Appropriations Committee included money in their finance bill (HB1) and added an amendment to Senate Bill 3
0 for additional funding. Although both bills passed both the House and Senate vote, funds were removed during Conference Committee. 

These inhumane conditions MUST change! Texas can do better! As noted in the timeline above, the House hears the pleas of incarcerated Texans, their families, the staff of TDCJ and with compassion continues to fight for "the least of these." The Senate and our state's top leaders, however, appears unconcerned with these inhuman conditions and the danger it causes for the people they are responsible for and their state employees.
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Impacted People 
Heat Resources

Click here to access the resources that TPCA has to help you advocate for your loved ones.

Did you know that the TDCJ pig barns have AC but the people barns do not!?!

Which Units
Have AC

Heat Related

 News Articles

Has this issue received Media coverage?

YES!

Check out a list of Media articles.  

Heat

Research

Did you know there is detailed research on this topic? 

We are willing to bet that after reading the linked Research you will find it hard to understand why this problem is still allowed to continue.

Heat

Videos

Videos are a great way to glean information and share with others.  Check out the videos of this long-standing problem!

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