In August, right around the time when the Texas summer heat was at its brutal worst, the state’s prison system finalized a bid to replace its aging swine-production facilities with six new climate-controlled modular barns, at a cost of $750,000.
The pigs raised for inmate consumption were going to get relief from the heat, but the state’s inmates would continue to suffer. In the last six years, at least 14 inmates died from heat stroke or hyperthermia in overheated Texas prisons, where air-conditioning is scarce and temperatures can reach 130 degrees.The correctional officers, whose working conditions are the same as the inmates’ living conditions, have taken note. Several inmates’ families have filed wrongful-death lawsuits, and the officers’ union supports them. We also support those officers who plan to take legal action against the state because of intolerable heat in their workplace. ...The prison system also tries to save money on climate control. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires all county jails to keep the temperature below 85 degrees — not necessarily a comfortable temperature, but a humane one. Still, the county jails house only 70,000 inmates, fewer than half as many as the state prisons, which are exempt. Some prisons have had air-conditioning installed, but only in the hospital areas and the administrative offices.The overheating in prisons is made even more dangerous by other cost-cutting measures. Employment screening for correctional officers is inadequate, and a physician’s examination isn’t required for applicants — even though they’ll be expected to work in a physically demanding job up to 12 hours a day, sometimes in heavy Kevlar vests, often in extreme heat. And just as the inmate population is aging, the officer population is getting older, too: with the economic downturn, we’ve seen retired officers returning to the job. I once worked with an officer who was 82 years old.
Regular readers may recall that this blog broke the story of TDCJ's pigs getting air conditioning while prisoners and COs sweated through the summer. I'm pleased to see the meme continuing to spread.Like the older inmates, many of these older officers take medications that make them particularly sensitive to the heat, including antidepressants and diuretics to control high blood pressure.Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the prison system may be liable for not providing reasonable accommodations. More than 15 percent of the inmate population has been found to have a mental illness, and some of them refuse to take their psychotropic medications in the summer, because the drugs can make them heat intolerant, leading to assaults on other inmates and correctional officers.