At least 41 people have died in stifling, uncooled prisons of either heart-related or unknown causes during Texas’ relentless and record-breaking heat wave this summer, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. Relatives of those who died and prison rights advocates insist at least some deaths were caused by the heat. More than a dozen of the prisoners were in their 20s or 30s, with at least four people 35 and under reportedly dying of cardiac arrest or heart failure. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says no prisoner has died from the brutal heat in its facilities since 2012, around the time the agency was bombarded with wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits over the heat. On Monday, Democrats on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability implored Republican Chair James Comer to launch an investigation into conditions at prisons enduring sweltering temperatures, especially in Texas. The request follows the Republican committee members’ investigation into conditions for defendants jailed on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“The capacity of prisons and jails to adequately prepare for and provide resources to meet the increasingly extreme weather caused by climate change deserves immediate attention from this Committee,” wrote the Democrats, including Texas Reps. Greg Casar and Jasmine Crockett. More than two-thirds of Texas’ 100 prisons don’t have air conditioning in most living areas in the concrete and steel buildings where officers and prisoners work and live. With little to no ventilation and temperatures routinely soaring into the triple digits outside, the thermometer reading often rises even higher inside the prisons. Since June, at least a dozen prisoners have died from reported cardiac arrest or heart failure in uncooled prisons on days when the regions’ outdoor heat indices were above 100 degrees, found a Tribune analysis of prison death reports and weather data. At least another 29 have died of what are still unknown causes pending autopsy results. The death count is likely higher, as prisons have 30 days to report a prisoner’s death to the state.