Monday, May 07, 2018

Heat-litigation settlement adds pressure on Texas to decarcerate

In response to federal heat litigation, reported Gaby Banks at the Houston Chronicle, "Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas prison system, is planning to relocate at-risk prisoners at 75 uncooled units to 29 prisons already equipped with air conditioning, according to two lawmakers briefed on the plan." A settlement will be reached this week over cooling inmates at the Pack Unit, Banks reported, but:
Other inmates could also benefit. Even before negotiating a deal, Texas prison officials began looking to move tens of thousands of vulnerable inmates into cooler quarters, perhaps to avert a swarm of additional lawsuits from other prisons.
“I’m not sure it would have happened without a federal lawsuit,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Texas Senate's corrections committee. “It’s an attitude among the public and the Legislature, which speaks for the public, that we don’t want to spend money on people who are murderers and rapists.”
The 2014 suit filed by the Pack inmates challenged the deadly hot conditions inside the rural prison, saying they violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison has already concluded the state showed “deliberate indifference” to inmate conditions.
Sen. Whitmire has been making remarks like that for years on this topic, which probably didn't hurt the plaintiff's case that the indifference toward heat-related deaths was "deliberate."

But now, the federal courts have mooted legislative and for that matter public opinions. The state just has to pay for A/C or other cooling measures for various, vulnerable prisoner populations including the aged and infirm.

All of this was predictable. After the 5th Circuit said TDCJ could be sued, I'd opined that, "Grits expects TDCJ to ultimately lose the pending heat litigation and for the Legislature to eventually find itself forced to implement significant mitigation measures to reduce heat exposure of inmates and guards. It won't be popular but, if the 5th Circuit rules like they did in Louisiana, they won't have a choice." Now, that's exactly what happened.

The Lege is already spending $3.4 billion per year to house Texas prisoners. And despite beginning the 86th session facing billions of dollars of red ink, they'll now have to spend more per prisoner to pay to cool so many of them.

This puts even greater pressure on the Legislature to reduce prisoner populations and close more units. With crime declining, and public support for decarceration reforms on the rise, the cost of continuing to incarcerate Texans in the same numbers we did when crime was high makes little sense on its face. That goes double if the state must now pay to air condition a significant proportion of its 104 prison units. And it must.


Anonymous said...

All state prisons should provide air conditions for heat and heating in winter months. These inmates are human and so are the guards. It would cut down on the fights and inmates and guards being hurt or killed. It is the human thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Units like Boyd and Skyview would lose their licenses if they were nursing homes.

Ben There said...

Check out TDCJ job postings for maintenance supervisors for a/c and new construction positions. Many new job openings posted looks like they are getting ready to install a/c on units listed, Starting salary for new hires times the number of openings is just the beginning of cost. That's if there are any applications that apply and get hired, Could be wronge regarding what the postings are preparing for of course just a thought. However thinking TDCJ is going to mind (for a change).