On August 24, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that 19 people—both incarcerated people and staff members—had been treated for heat-related illnesses in its facilities in the previous month.Lauren McGaughy, “19 Treated for Heat-Related Illness in Past Month, Texas Prison Officials Say,” Dallas Morning News, July 30, 2018. The reporting, as well as new heat protocols, is part of the state’s response to a wave of heat-related deaths in its prisons in 2011, when 10 people died of heat stroke over the course of just two months.Jolie McCullough, “After $7 Million Air Conditioning Fight, Texas Prison System Touts New Heat Safety Policies,” Texas Tribune, July 26.
Yet problems remain: of 104 Texas prisons, just 29 have air conditioning in the areas inhabited by incarcerated people.Gabrielle Banks and Keri Blakinger, “Heat Wave Sparks Concerns in Sweltering Texas Prisons,” Houston Chronicle, July 22, 2018.
One more facility will be added to that list: in May, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison approved a settlement in which the state agreed to install air conditioning at the Wallace Pack Unit.Jolie McCullough, “Judge Approves Settlement Mandating Air Conditioning at Hot Texas Prison,” Texas Tribune, May 8, 2018.
“I never dreamt we’d get the Pack Unit air-conditioned,” Ellison said. “I think it’s going to endure for generations of prisoners.”Jolie McCullough, “Judge Approves Settlement Mandating Air Conditioning at Hot Texas Prison,” Texas Tribune, May 8, 2018.
But other people in prison continue to be subjected to high temperatures. In Louisiana, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that prison officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola are not required to keep the heat index on death row below 88 degrees, reversing a lower court ruling.Ball v. LeBlanc, 881 F.3d 346 (5th Cir. 2018). Also see “Appeals Court Ruling Means Heat Index on Angola’s Death Row Can Exceed 88,” Nola.com, February 1, 2018.