Friday, July 10, 2015

5th Circuit: Hot prisons may be cruel and unusual, but A/C not required

Texas may not be required to air condition its prisons, but there's a good chance they'll need additional heat mitigation measures judging by a federal court ruling this week. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a Louisiana judge who'd ordered air conditioning on death row because of excessive heat, but at the same time "stated that extreme temperatures in prison cells can violate the Eighth Amendment’s restriction on cruel and unusual punishment." Reported the Austin Statesman (7/10):
What’s more, the federal court said inmates don’t need to show that hot temperatures caused death or serious injuries to prove that prison conditions are unconstitutional.

“They need only show that there is a substantial risk of serious harm,” [Judge Edith] Jones wrote.

The ruling by the 5th Circuit, which also has jurisdiction over Texas, could prove important for similar legal challenges in the Lone Star State — particularly a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in February that claims at least 12 Texas prisoners have died from heat stroke since 2011, while hundreds of others experienced heat-related illnesses.
Regarding possible additional measures, "Wednesday’s appeals court decision said Louisiana prisons could avoid heat-related cruel and unusual punishment by cooling common areas and supplying personal ice containers and ample cold water, as well as by providing many of the solutions used in Texas prisons."

One difference between the Texas and Louisiana litigation is that here the suit was joined by prison guards complaining of extremist working conditions. One wonders, since the 5th Circuit declined to combine the cases, if the focus on employment conditions as opposed to incarceration conditions might provide an additional foothold. Regardless, TDCJ can now see the bare minimum improvements needed to mitigate overheated prisons; they shouldn't wait for a court order before beginning to deploy them.

See related Grits posts:


Larry Coffin said...

This is in reply to the narrow minded statements made by the mentally myopic "Anonymous" on June 19 at 4:09 pm, and by another "anonymous" on June 19 at 5:06 pm. I spent 20 years in prison because of substance addiction. I had had severe, frequent migraines since the age of 12 in 1961. In 1976, before anyone was really aware of prescription drug abuse, I was freely given opiate pain medications. By 1987, I became informed about drug addiction and drug abuse and realized I was an addict. In 1989 I committed 2 crimes for which I was guilty. Had it not been for the drug addiction and being "high" at the time, I may not have committed those crimes. However, I take full responsibility for both the drugs and the crimes. That is how easy it is to end up in prison. Anon at 4:09 makes it sound like anyone and everyone should be able to easily avoid breaking the law. Do you exceed the speed limit? Do you come to a FULL stop at a stop sign? Do you signal every time you change lanes? Things just sometimes happen to otherwise good Christian family men who get caught up in something gradually over the years like I did. Open your eyes and your mind and stop being so sanctimonious. To Anon 5:06, Hey, wake up dude. They did not have the technology for any sort of air conditioning or mechanical air movement devices when the 8th Amendment was instituted. In 2011, I saw 5 deaths occur that may have been prevented had there been ventilation or air conditioning. Heat causes tempers to flare, fights, even stabbings to occur. I personally witnessed such events on numerous occasions. Guards, or "bosses" as they are called in there, lose their cool and patience with the inmates, as well as each other> I have witnessed fight erupt between the guards in those 120 degree temperatures. This is not about coddling the inmates or just merely making them comfortable, but preventing the heat from becoming a death sentence to those with medical problems or taking medications from which severe complications can arise. Get off the condescending, sanctimonious crap and see the world for what it is, rather than sitting back and passing judgement.

Susan Garrett said...

Well said Larry. It appears that there are quite a few sanctimoniously judgmental individuals who are lacking in basic compassion and human kindness. Inmates are human beings, someone's mother, father, son, daughter, husband or wife. The extreme heat is a violation of the 8th amendment- cruel and unusual punishment. One can hope that the next time some of them sit in Church they remember that Christ died for those inmates too, and it is His goodness and mercy that leads a man to repentance- not broiling him alive. The had also better pray they don't end up there... Or somewhere similar after they die.

Anonymous said...

If you dont like prison, try to avoid the reasons that will get you there.

Larry Coffin said...

Dear Anonymous, Apparently you have a reading comprehension problem. Did you not understand the context of what I said in my comment regarding my own situation? If anyone out there does not ever make mistakes, I would sure like to know how it's done. But to put it in a simpler statement to summarize, addiction can creep up on ANYONE who, like myself, was taking pain medications for a legitimate purpose and obtaining them in a perfectly legal fashion. Come on dude, get real. That was a very sophomoric statement.