Only 19 of 112 Texas state prisons are air-conditioned, leaving most of the state's 155,000 prisoners and those who guard them to face the summer heat with fans and primitive air-circulating systems.
Prison officials say the 19 air-conditioned prisons are generally reserved for the sick and mentally ill.
So far this year, nine inmates and seven prison employees have suffered heat-related illnesses. ...
Up to 15,000 miniature electric fans are sold systemwide each year. The fans cost $22 each at the prison commissary, and "loaners" are provided to inmates deemed indigent. Hallways, day rooms and dormitory units are equipped with fans.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the heat is "part of the reality of going to prison."
In addition to the medical units, there's also an air-conditioned state jail in downtown Houston, I learned recently when it was reported the AC went out, which is provided because of the high-rise architecture. Most prisons without AC, particularly older units, were designed to promote air flow with that in mind.
Certainly for inmates, as one prisoner said in the story, "It's useless to be crying about this ... We're the ones who put ourselves in prison." But as a practical matter, the bigger issues for the state are working conditions for staff and medical costs. Notice 7 of the 16 cases of heat-related illnesses reported were actually employees, not inmates - a far greater ratio than their proportion in the units. Typically, summertime worsens understaffing at Texas prisons with the number of unfilled guard slots rising steadily until the weather cools.
This year the recession and aggressive TDCJ recruiting efforts have cut significantly into that staffing shortfall for the first time in many years, but it's an open question how many of those rookie guards will still stay on the job after they've endured a few 108 degree days in August.
UPDATE: The AP story from the Dallas paper was actually based on this longer piece in the Houston Chronicle.