Robert Allen Webb, a 50-year-old developmentally disabled man who suffered from a medical condition that made him susceptible to heatstroke, was supposed to be serving a short sentence in a Texas prison for drunken driving.
But in August 2011, as Texas baked in one of its worst heat waves ever, it became a death sentence inside an East Texas prison.
On Thursday, two wrongful-death lawsuits were filed in a Galveston federal court alleging that Webb and 12 other Texas convicts have died since 2007 — 10 alone in a six-week period of July and August 2011 — in un-air-conditioned prisons because of negligence of Texas prison officials.
In some prisons, lawyers said, indoor summer temperatures routinely reach 110 degrees. In one prison near Dallas, the temperature reportedly topped 149, lawyers in the case said.
Texas operates the nation’s largest prison system, with 111 lockups. But unlike other states that have air-conditioned prisons in recent years to curb health questions and lawsuits, most Texas prisons have air conditioning only in administrative and some treatment areas — not in the cell blocks.See also coverage from the Texas Tribune. Last year the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for prisoners to sue in federal court over heat-related Eighth Amendment claims. One of the federal appellate judges likened conditions to sitting in an oven. Today, the weather is on the cool side for June, but things will heat up soon. If TCRP has their way, that will be true in the federal courthouse as well as inside Texas prison cells.
See a related column from Bob Ray Sanders at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram promoting the annual fan drive for indigent prisoners run by CURE, the Committee United for Rehabilitation of Errants. Good cause, give if you can.