In Texas, animal shelters are obliged by law to ensure that their ambient temperature does not rise above 85 degrees for more than two hours, a measure designed to protect dogs and cats from extreme heat and provide for their “health and wellbeing.” If only humans were so lucky. Across the state, in prisons that have no cooling systems, up to 100,000 incarcerated people are baking in concrete and metal cells that act as heat traps. Inside temperatures are estimated to rise regularly above 115 degrees and have even been recorded to reach as high as 149, pushing individuals to the point of mental or physical breakdown, or even death, the Guardian reports. With Texas set to enter the hottest part of the year over the next two weeks, and with a brutal climate-crisis-fueled heatwave pummeling the South, conditions inside its dilapidated and overcrowded penal institutions are reaching crisis point.
Inmates told the Guardian that they are stuck virtually around the clock inside cells they described as ovens. “Sir, have you ever seen what the heat does to a dog?” Luke Pryor, 39, a prisoner in the Wainwright unit, which has air conditioning, wrote from his cell in an email. “We are trapped in here and it’s driving people insane.” Raymond Gonzalez, 48, described daily life inside Ferguson, one of the oldest prisons, which also has no cooling. He called his cell an “oven” and said he was allowed out of it only twice a week for an hour at a time. The hot sun beams into his cell all day, he said, and when he or his fellow inmates try to block its rays by covering part of the front of their cells, they are issued disciplinary tickets for obstructing the guards’ view. “To try and remain cool I have to walk around in only my boxer underwear, pouring sink water all over my head and body.”