Monday, September 09, 2019

TDCJ 'behaved dishonorably' in prison-heat litigation, says federal judge

A federal judge declared that Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials had "behaved dishonorably" by allegedly providing the court false information about broken air conditioners and heat levels inside Texas prisons, the Associated Press reported over the weekend. In this exchange, Judge Keith Ellison appeared to contemplate giving TDCJ officials a taste of their own medicine:
"Shouldn't we have as a sanction, prison officials in the cells dealing with the same temperatures as the prisoners?" Ellison asked Leah O'Leary, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General's Office, which represented the state's prison system. 
O'Leary disagreed with Ellison's idea and said the state was working to fix the problems.
"You have our attention," said O'Leary, who spoke at the hearing by phone. 
"I'm afraid I don't," Ellison replied. 
Ellison delayed making a ruling on possible sanctions until he heard from officials, including prison wardens, at a hearing on Tuesday.
Further, "Ellison said while the settlement only covers prisoners from the Pack Unit, he believes the Texas prison system should air condition all of its units."

Grits has maintained for years that this is an issue only the federal courts can address: Without a sea change in priorities at the Texas Legislature, I can't see a path toward cooling Texas prison units through the political arena. A federal court would have to make them do it. 

If and when that ever happens, it will put significant economic pressure on state government to further reduce incarceration levels.

By the same token, Judge Ellison sounds like he's losing patience with TDCJ, and every summer, the situation becomes more dire. When a federal judge openly declares public officials have "behaved dishonorably," it's hard to imagine his next ruling is going to put smiles on their faces.

MORE: See Texas Tribune coverage.

UPDATE: The agency has now admitted it violated the settlement agreement. Also, "the prison agency has identified 13,000 inmates in the prison system that are heat vulnerable and it has already put 8,000 of them in air-conditioned beds. The remaining 5,000 will be placed in air-conditioned beds in 12 to 24 months."


Anonymous said...

It wouldn't disappoint me if the leaders of Texas prisons were sentenced to spend time in their own overheated prisons for contempt of court. they've been deliberately playing games with a federal judge (NEVER a good idea) and got caught.

I wouldn't mind seeing Ken Paxton join the prison officials in their own overheated prisons either. Once the contempt citations are over, they can leave Paxton there for his security fraud issues.

George said...

@ 12:10, I agree completely except that if any of the state officials were to serve time, it would most likely not be in a state prison since any sanctions/sentence would come from the federal level.

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