Friday, November 22, 2013

Union rep: TDCJ focuses on pigs' comfort over staff, inmates

Though perhaps ill-timed in light of today's cold front, Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and the president of the Huntsville-based local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has a column in the New York Times today titled, "In Texas, inmates and officers swelter." Here are some highlights:
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.
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.
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.


Anonymous said...

You would think with them being so careful with the pigs, that the offenders were eating bacon, porkchops and ham...not so!! Where are all the good parts of the pigs going?

Anonymous said...

They must sell the good parts when no one is looking. That crap they feed the inmates, a pig would not even eat. Roll-up pork something another. TDCJ = CORRUPTION!!!

Anonymous said...

Corruption runs very deep. Someone needs to looking into the conflict of interest involving the Board of Pardons and Parole. The current Charwoman's husband is now a high paid executive with a private prison company. The state legislature funded numerous programs to bring the Texas prison population down and increase parole. With the last reduction in the prison population, two private prisons were closed. The private prison groups took notice and the population of Texas prisons is going back up. Rissie needs to be exposed and removed if she can not bring down the prison population by expanding parole. Texas prisons due to underfunding and high populations are in danger of a Federal Court takeover.

Thank You Grits.

You do a great job exposing issues.

Anonymous said...

A Federal Court Take over is long over due and so is an over haul of the Parole Board members too.