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Texas Inmates Still Suffer Through High Temperatures, No A/C

Rashes from heat are common. Metal furniture is hot to the touch. Hyperthermia and dehydration are a constant risk, reduced with fans, tepid water and wet towels. Deaths have occurred. This is life during much of the summer inside Texas’ stifling prisons, most of which have no air-conditioning for inmates despite increasingly extreme temperatures in the state, reports the New York Times. The men locked inside the dormitories of Lopez State Jail in Edinburg have experienced a record-setting heat wave this summer. On a recent weekday in the minimum-security facility 30 miles from the Mexico border, inmates draped yellow “cooling towels” around their necks and wiped away sweat from their arms and faces. One of at least 13 states without fully air-conditioned housing, Texas has faced lawsuits and criticisms for failing to provide its inmates with relief from extreme indoor temperatures. Texas is coming off its second hottest summer on record, with an average daily temperature of 97.4 degrees. The area around the Lopez State Jail experienced 48 days of 100 degrees or above.

Since 2000, there have been at least 17 heat-related deaths in Texas prisons, including 10 during a heat wave in 2011. The last documented prison death was in 2012. This year, 12 inmates and 21 employees have suffered heat-related illnesses, although some inmates’ family members and supporters believe the number of heat-related illnesses was higher. The Texas prison system has undergone court-mandated reforms, but new prisons do not have extra funding for air-conditioning. The state does require some inmates to have air-conditioning: those in jails run by counties, which often house inmates who are awaiting trial. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires that county jails keep the temperature from 65 to 85 degrees. That standard does not apply to state-run prisons. As a result, only one of every three prisons in Texas is fully air-conditioned. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to air condition the 98 state prisons by the end of the decade at a cost of $1.1 billion. It has yet to secure the funding from the legislature. Inside the prison, there is air-conditioning in the hallways, but not in the dormitories that house inmates. Ismael Carrillo Gomez, 32, of San Antonio, displayed what he said was heat-related redness on his hands as he stood near his bunk without a shirt — a violation of the rules, though one officials said was not enforced. Industrial fans were placed on the floors and ceilings as part of a “heat mitigation” strategy, but inmates complained the fans only recirculated hot air. Lights were intermittently turned off during the day, an apparent attempt to reduce heat.


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