Heat Can be a Death Sentence for Inmates – Update No. 3
This article previously discussed the intolerable conditions in Texas prisons during the hot summer months. Texas is just one of many states that has allowed inmates to suffer and/or die from intolerable heat in the summer. The Texas prison system is now paying $750,000 for six climate-controlled barns for use in its pig farming program. It has been reported that the pigs will fare better than the inmates under the hot Texas sun.
This summer, the Texas prison system is paying $750,000 for six climate-controlled barns for use in its pig farming program. The state’s prison system uses inmate labor to raise pigs for food. The pig barns will have large fans with misters and exhaust fans to guarantee constant air movement, reducing the temperature by as much as 20 degrees in hot weather. The Texas prison system has not made similar purchases to prevent inmates from dying from excessive heat.
An advocacy group has filed suit against the Texas prison system for 13 deaths since 2007 based on excessive heat in units without air conditioning. A five year sentence for a non-violent crime should not become a death sentence. Human beings in Texas should be treated as well as the animals.
The following article, posted last year, The Times reported about intolerable conditions in Texas prisons causing death. Ten inmates died from various heat related causes last summer. The inmates body temperatures ranged from 106 degrees to 109 degrees. “I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells,” said the corrections supervisor for one of the Texas prisons.
New York Times article
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: July 28, 2012
HOUSTON — Last summer’s record-breaking heat wave had a grim impact on Texas, playing a role in the deaths of roughly 150 people. Many of them were found in their homes or apartments, but a few were discovered somewhere else — in their prison cells.
Ten inmates of the state prison system died of heat-related causes last summer in a 26-day period in July and August, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners’ rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state prisons puts inmates’ lives at risk.
The 10 inmates were housed in areas that lacked air-conditioning, and several had collapsed or lost consciousness while they were in their cells. All of them were found to have died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees, according to autopsy reports and the state’s prison agency.
Other factors contributed to their deaths. All but three of them had hypertension, and some were obese, had heart disease or were taking antipsychotic medications, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat.
One inmate, Alexander Togonidze, 44, was found unresponsive in his cell at an East Texas prison called the Michael Unit at 8 a.m. on Aug. 8 with a body temperature of 106 degrees, according to prison documents. The temperature in his cell, taken by prison officials 15 minutes after he was pronounced dead, was 86.2 degrees and the heat index was 93 degrees.
Five days later, at the nearby Gurney Unit prison, Kenneth Wayne James, 52, was found in his cell with a body temperature of 108 degrees. His autopsy report stated Mr. James most likely died of “environmental hyperthermia-related classic heat stroke,” noting several risk factors, including Mr. James’s chronic illness and use of a diuretic, and the lack of air-conditioning.
“We were looking for him to come home in a few months,” said Mary Lou James, the mother of Mr. James, who had been charged with injuring a child and was serving a five-year sentence for violating probation. “I think that’s just awful, to have a place like that where you don’t have any air. I don’t think human beings should be treated in that manner.”
Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said 12 inmates had died of heat-related causes since 2007. The debate over the lack of air-conditioning in the prison system has intensified in recent weeks, after lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the agency in federal court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file additional wrongful-death lawsuits.
Of the 111 prisons overseen by the agency, only 21 are fully air-conditioned, and inmates and their advocates have argued that the overheated conditions during triple-digit summers violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Prison officials dispute those claims, saying that the health and well-being of the inmates are their top priorities and that the autopsies of the 12 inmates who died list a variety of contributing factors to their deaths. They said they take steps to help inmates on hot days, including restricting outside work activities and providing extra water and ice.
“It is unknown whether the lack of air-conditioning was a contributing factor in the offender deaths,” Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said in a statement. “Texas experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2011. It was an unprecedented event affecting the entire state and much of the southern and eastern United States. T.D.C.J. took precautions to help mitigate the impact of temperature extremes on offenders and staff. The agency continues to do so.”
But a corrections supervisor who works at a prison where one of the 12 inmates died said the number of heat-related fatalities was a cause of concern, as was the larger number of inmates and corrections officers who require medical attention because of the heat.
At least 17 prison employees or inmates were treated for heat-related illnesses from June 25 through July 6, according to agency documents. Many of them had been indoors at the time they reported feeling ill.
At the Darrington Unit near Rosharon on June 25, a 56-year-old corrections officer fainted in a supervisor’s office and was taken to a hospital. Heat exhaustion was diagnosed. At the four-story Coffield Unit near Palestine, where one inmate died of hyperthermia last August, dozens of windows have been broken out — prisoners slip soda cans or bars of soap into socks and throw them at the windows, hoping to increase ventilation.
“I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells,” said the corrections supervisor, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “If you’ve got a life sentence, odds are you’re going to die in the penitentiary. But what about the guy who dies from a heat stroke who only had a four-year sentence? His four-year sentence was actually a life sentence.”
One of the 10 inmates who died last summer, Larry Gene McCollum, 58, a prisoner at the Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas, had a body temperature of 109.4 degrees. Nine days before his death in his cell, the indoor temperatures at Hutchins were routinely recorded by prison officials and ranged from 100 degrees to 102 degrees, according to agency documents.
Those temperatures exceed those allowed by a state law requiring county jails to maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees in occupied areas. But the law applies only to county jails, not to state prisons.
“After this many deaths, prison officials obviously know this is a problem,” said David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, in Washington. “Prisons aren’t supposed to be comfortable, nor are they supposed to kill you.”
State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was not alarmed by the number of deaths, noting that the overall state inmate population exceeds 150,000. Keith Price, the former warden of the Coffield Unit, agreed.
“Just from a statistical standpoint, that’s really not significant, particularly when you consider the population,” Mr. Price, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at West Texas A&M University, said of the 12 deaths. “Many inmates are poorly equipped to manage their lives and thus make poor decisions. I do not believe it is up to the taxpayers to provide air-conditioning for inmates when some simple self-discipline would avoid many of these problems.”
Prison officials said that air-conditioning had not been installed in many buildings because of the additional construction and utility costs, and that retrofitting them would be an extraordinary expense.
Prisoners’ rights advocates said that treating inmates who become ill from the heat is just as costly, and that retrofitting entire buildings was not the only possible solution. They said allowing medically high-risk inmates to spend time in air-conditioned areas would be one improvement.
By Melani–I find this very disturbing Last year in Oklahoma temperatures in the units on the yard reached 120 to 125 when the outside temps blazed into the 110-115 mark this makes the inmates irritable and then it causes other issues such as fights.The prison system isn’t supposed to be likable but it is supposed to be humane.We shouldn’t be allowed to treat the inmates like animals they are humans who made mistakes and are paying for them.The states pay a lot of money to the prison systems for housing these inmates but the money isn’t going into the prisons… Read more »
Air conditioning should be a priority, because it is the humanitarian thing to do. But medical neglect is also an issue to be addressed.
We agree completely with you. There will be an article about the lack of medical care at prisons this week on prisonpath.com
By Willie–I am sure it can be. I will pray that conditions improve after all prisoners are humans.
By James–This is violating the prisoners basic Constitutional protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
By Karan–Gail, I do not know how to get the verification on this, but I would like to know if this is true. Texas has the rep of having hard prisons but, this is so wrong if true. Please tell me what you find or how to find out for myself.
By Gail–It seems there have been 4 lawsuits in Texas related to no air conditioning contributing to heat deaths. I don’t know the outcome. It sounds bad but one could count a much larger number in our outside population. The news sensationalizes the facts to make a story more attention grabbing for a larger viewing base for more money in advertising. May we not forget our brothers and sisters in prison no matter the conditions.
By Bob–We serve in Texas prisons through Kairos, plus I did time in Texas prisons in the 70’s. There is no air conditioning in the older units other than specific areas such as where officers have offices. The budgets have been drastically cut so where there are air conditioning units they sometimes do not work and are not repaired. Texas is hot anyway so this adds to the problems.
By Gail–I served in the Neil unit outside of Amarillo, we had no air conditioning in the gym during the summer months, but we had large fans. We turned them off during talks to hear but it was certainly bearable. I think Arizona would be the hottest and I think some of them live in tents and work outside. I was in a classroom at the Davis facility in Holdenville OK yesterday and we had air conditioning. It was nicer than some of our outside facilities.
By Heather–From personal experience, I went to two different prisons this past week and both times left dripping in sweat. And I was at both for about 2 hours. I can’t imagine being there all day and night. And it wasn’t even that hot outside. What about Tent City in Arizona? The jail that is comprised of tents? http://abouttentcity.com/ Here in Richmond there were so many inmates dying from heat exposure at the jail that they have built a new one. http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/death-rate-at-richmond-jail-far-outpaces-national-average/article_44076889-1d71-5474-b232-6b17ea40930b.html Part of the problem is that many of these institutions are so old that their AC units cannot… Read more »
By Willie–What a sad commentary. This is inhumane treatment to mankind. Regardless of a person’s situation human dignity is paramount. I also believe that it the inmates were given something positive to engage then prison violence would be greatly reduced.
By Gail–I agree with you Willie. And passing laws doesn’t change people as much as it creates law breakers. The government can’t legislate moral values. WE NEED MORE JESUS!
By James–I wish the Federal and State governments would realize that it is impossible to legislate morals. They cannot force people to behave in a decent manner simply by passing more laws. A personal relationship with Christ is the only way to truly change a person’s life.
By Willie–True! True! and until our government both Federal and State as we see them trying to do just that on all fronts.
By Heather–This is so true! Last week i left two different prisons dripping in sweat, and I was only there about 2 hours. I can’t imagine being there all day and all night! The saddest part is that it really wasn’t that hot outside, so it must be much worse on really hot days!
By Roland—Heather, Amen I agree, thanks for sharing!
By Minister Willie–It’s a shame that although they are criminal that they have to suffer and tolerate such conditions. I even let my dog inside the house when it too hot outside because state commercials suggest. So why don’t some of those same state own commercials suggest that something be done as simply as donating a air conditioner to a inmate to have in his or cell just as they have TV’s inside their cell? I know there’s always a reason not to do something like that as far as the prisons are concern, but there’s comes a time when… Read more »
Yes heat can be a death sentence to the inmates. In Africa the heat is brought about by over congestion in the prison units ,most of them which were built during the colonial periods. The population has increased and these prison facilities were for few people than what they are holding now.Some have been loaded 100% with inmates.So as a result of that, many die of dehydration, cholera and the breathing related diseases day by day.So heat can also bring suffocation and cause death.
You all are right it’s flipping hot but you forget who is going to pay for the units and the eletctity
[…] six climate controlled barns for use in its pig farming program. This money was allocated although extreme heat was a death sentence for some Texas […]
[…] The cost of air-conditioning units has been estimated at more than $55 million. Texas prison officials have argued that the prisons do not require air conditioning units despite the numerous inmate’s deaths. At the same time, the Texas prison system paid this summer $750,000 for six climate-controlled barns for use in its pig farming program. The Texas rescue of the pigs was detailed in our article, “Heat Can be a Death Sentence for Inmates – Update No.3.“ […]