A federal judge in Houston has ordered the Texas prison system to provide safe drinking water to inmates at the Pack Unit in Navasota, saying the unit's arsenic-laden well water "violates contemporary standards of decency."TDCJ before now had refused to pay to extend a water line from the city of Navasota to the Pack unit, preferring to use well water they knew was contaminated because of the lower cost. So good for Judge Ellison. That kind of cynical cost-benefit analysis devaluing inmates' lives and health shouldn't be condoned.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison said the Wallace Pack Unit, a low security facility in Grimes County that holds elderly and sick inmates, has 15 days to replace its water supply.
The emergency motion to replace the drinking water was filed by a group of inmates suing the state on the grounds that the lack of air conditioning during the hot summer months is a form of "cruel and unusual punishment."
The Pack Unit houses mostly elderly, ill and disabled inmates who may take medications that make them especially vulnerable to heat-related illness.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to appeal the ruling, according to a spokesman.
The next cost-benefit judgment: Does it make more financial sense to pay to extend a water line from the city to the prison, or is there sufficient capacity within TDCJ to move those inmates elsewhere and shutter it? And what can be done, one wonders, in 15 days? The judge's ruling stemmed from a subsidiary claim in ongoing litigation over excessive heat in the un-air conditioned unit in Grimes County, just west of Huntsville.
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