Texas Inmate and Advocacy Groups Sue State Prison System Over Deadly Heat Conditions

A federal lawsuit alleges that the Texas prison system subjects inmates to extreme and life-threatening heat conditions, with 271 heat-related deaths between 2001 and 2019. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in all housing and occupied areas.

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Israel Ojoko
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Texas Inmate and Advocacy Groups Sue State Prison System Over Deadly Heat Conditions

Texas Inmate and Advocacy Groups Sue State Prison System Over Deadly Heat Conditions

A federal lawsuit filed by Texas inmate Bernhardt Tiede and several advocacy groups alleges that the state's prison system is subjecting inmates to extreme and life-threatening heat conditions.

The lawsuit, which targets the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), claims that the lack of air conditioning in the majority of the state's prisons has led to widespread illness and 271 heat-related deaths between 2001 and 2019.

Tiede, who gained notoriety as the inspiration for the movie 'Bernie', suffered heat-related stroke symptoms while housed in a cell that reached 112 degrees at the Estelle Unit prison in Huntsville, Texas. The lawsuit argues that the extreme temperatures, which can soar above 100 degrees during the summer months and reach as high as 149 degrees in some housing units, constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the lawsuit, approximately 85,000 of the 130,000 inmates in TDCJ custody are housed in units without air conditioning. The plaintiffs contend that this lack of temperature control violates federal regulations and subjects inmates to inhumane and dangerous conditions. They are seeking a court order requiring the TDCJ to maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in all housing and occupied areas.

Why this matters: The lawsuit highlights the ongoing issue of extreme heat in Texas prisons, which has been linked to numerous inmate deaths and illnesses over the years. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the rights and well-being of incarcerated individuals across the state.

In response to the lawsuit, the TDCJ has recently created an online dashboard to track the progress of air conditioning installation in its facilities, as well as a heat protocol site outlining enhanced measures to address the issue. However, the plaintiffs argue that these efforts are insufficient and that the current policies for dealing with excessive heat remain unconstitutional. The advocacy groups joining the lawsuit aim to ensure that the TDCJ takes immediate and comprehensive action to protect inmates from the potentially deadly consequences of extreme heat exposure.

Key Takeaways

  • Texas inmates sue state over lack of AC, alleging 271 heat-related deaths.
  • Lawsuit claims extreme temperatures in prisons violate constitutional rights.
  • Plaintiffs seek court order to maintain 65-85°F in all housing and occupied areas.
  • TDCJ has created online dashboard and heat protocol site, but plaintiffs say efforts are insufficient.
  • Outcome of lawsuit could have significant implications for incarcerated individuals in Texas.