Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Do sweltering Texas prisons violate international human rights standards?

This morning I received a press a press release from UT Law School's Human Rights Clinic related to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights'  announcement that it "will hold a hearing in Washington, D.C. on October 27, 2014 regarding Texas' violation of prison inmates' human rights by exposing them to dangerously hot temperatures. The IACHR is an independent organ of the Organization of American States, whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Western hemisphere." Find the full text of the press release below the jump:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has announced it will hold a hearing in Washington, D.C. on October 27, 2014 regarding Texas’ violation of prison inmates’ human rights by exposing them to dangerously hot temperatures. The IACHR is an independent organ of the Organization of American States, whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Western hemisphere.

Ariel Dulitzky, director of the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic, sought the hearing to present the findings from the clinic’s year-long investigation, which it released in its report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” on April 22, 2014. The report found the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is violating the U.S. Constitution and international human rights standards. “All the major human rights bodies affirm prisoners’ right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, such as exposure to temperature extremes,” said Dulitzky. “Many international human rights courts have found extreme heat conditions similar to those in Texas’ prisons were inhuman or degrading treatment.”

“Searing heat in Texas prisons is a persistent, well-known danger. Summer comes every year, and every year, people die,” said Brian McGiverin, attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Since 2007, heat has killed at least fourteen Texas inmates, and countless others are still at risk.” Earlier this summer, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Edwards Law, and the UT School of Law Civil Rights Clinic filed a lawsuit in Houston federal court to challenge TDCJ’s practice of exposing sick, elderly, and disabled prisoners to dangerously hot temperatures.

“TDCJ has been aware inmates were dying from extreme heat since at least 1998, and it has been more than two years since the Texas Civil Rights Project brought the first of several lawsuits against the TDCJ for wrongful deaths caused by heat,” said McGiverin. “But even now, TDCJ is refusing totake basic steps to protect inmates.”

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards already requires every county jail in Texas to maintain internal temperatures stay between 65 and 85 degrees – from Archer County, with space for 8 inmates, to Harris County, with space for over 10,000 inmates. Other states with hot climates, such as Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, air condition their prisons. A federal court recently ordered Louisiana to install air conditioning in at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Even the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is air-conditioned.

"It is very fortunate that the international human rights community is taking heed of this timely and important issue," said Dulitzky.


Anonymous said...

Two answers come to mind: The first is "Yes" and the second is "Compared to what"? Sure, the housing is hot, but so is USMiliary conditions in the middle east, roughnecks in the EagleFord, and numerous other industrial and livign conditions around the world. Only difference being that offenders are FORCED to live in the heat, it isn't voluntary.

Most people I know in the prison bidness in Texas believe that some type of cooled air is going to be the next big dollar requirement for Texas prisons.

Prison Doc

Anonymous said...

At what point should serving time in prison be comfortable?

I work in a pipe yard where its 130-150 degrees while on top of the pipe. I do it to pay my debts and provide.

This person from the UT Scool of Socialist law might need to spend a little time in prison to see what type of people are in there. I bet they belive its the misunderstood type that are innocent in there.


Anonymous said...

If you spent all day "on top of the pipe", 6:19, and slept and ate there, and if you hadn't chose to seek out the job, and if your employer also banned AC in your living quarters, your situation might be similar, but it's not.

prison doc, how many US soldiers are sentenced to live without AC in Afghanistan for 30 years or even life? Voluntary isnt the only difference, duration, too.

What everybody misses is the guards did choose the job and the heat (and pay) are why so many quit. That's what outsiders don't get. The staff need AC if you want to attract better than the dregs. Otherwise, if you are going to work in 130 degree heat you may as well get oil-field money for it.

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider is that many of those who make snarky comments of "they're prisoners and as such don't have any rights" need to realize that they might be one bad decision away from becoming a "prisoner" themselves. If that were to happen, wonder if they'd be singing a different tune?

Many, if not most of the problems getting and retaining quality people to work in the TDCJ prisons stem from the poor quality working conditions. Improve the conditions, attract higher caliber employees, and reduce the turnover seems to be a win win situation. Also, eliminate the payouts the state has made over inmate deaths caused by extreme temperatures.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:29, I'd add that they could pay for it by adjusting sentencing categories for drug and property crimes - by one penalty category on drugs and adjusting theft thresholds for inflation - and closing five or six more prison units.

The Lege would never pay for AC on their own, it's something federal courts appear likely to make them do. But when it happens, Texas better have a plan in place or it'll be a budget-buster.

Anonymous said...

If you think their conditions are comfortable you need to research the reality of that statement. A/c isn't bring requested as a form of comfort but as a need for safety...TDCJ is required to provide the safest conditions that can and apparently unless you are a pig in their agricultural program managed by TDCJ..safe conditions are too much to expect.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Reminder: Staff offices have AC and Texas is different from ... say Alaska. Many of the "prisoners" are their unjustly for years, proven innocent after their lives have been ruined or they have lost their life. Tim Cole the young man that died in prison as an example. The prisons are supposed to rehabilitate but instead they punish the inmates (some deserve it -yes. According to the law of the land, murder is the only punishable crime.

Anonymous said...

You all are way too kind to the mutherfucker with hemorrhoids commenting from a pipe yard.

From one Ex-convict to a punk commenting while taking a dump, Fuck you 6:19. We all know you love your greased pipe and anyone that says or writes the P word is a punk or a female acting butch and would get knocked out on the first day in any type of jail.

Good luck keeping your last two teeth in that Pasadena pipe yard. The first time Alonzo the forklift operator gets tired of your snark, him and his five cousins will jump you.

Michael W. Jewell, said...

70,000 Texas prisoners are released each year. 60% will recidivate. Why do you think that is? Punishment doesn't work to change character, rehabilitative programs do, educational and vocational programs do. Prisoners, criminals, have issues they need help to deal with. And so do you "an eye for an eye," "lock 'em up and throw away the key" morons. It is a statistical fact that the more education a prisoner receives inside, the least likely she/he is to recidivate, i.e., re-offend, commit new crimes against you, your family, and friends. Read the stats, do the math, think about it.

Anonymous said...

The prisons are the only jobs that alot of small towns community have.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Not even the farmers want to buy the left overs 4 their pigs. The pigs won't eat what they are serving our love ones.