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Federal judge orders Texas prison system to provide cooled quarters for heat-sensitive inmates

7-20-17 Texas:

HOUSTON — In a searing 100-page rebuke of the Texas prison system, a federal judge Wednesday ordered state officials to provide air-conditioned living quarters for elderly, disabled and other heat-sensitive inmates at the Pack Unit northwest of Houston.

The judge’s ruling — which chastises prison officials for “obstruction” and “deliberate indifference” to inmate suffering — gives the state 15 days to draft a plan to ensure that 475 vulnerable inmates have living units cooled to no more than 88 degrees and that 1,000 others have easy access to indoor respite areas. The prison must also develop a heat-wave policy to prevent further injuries and install insect-proof window screens.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison does not require prison officials to install air conditioning throughout the prison, but suggests staff could adjust housing assignments to make sure inmates with health problems sleep in cooled dormitories.

Ellison — who spent five hours at the Pack Unit in the summer of 2014 to feel the heat for himself — cites Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s writing on Siberian prison conditions in ordering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to bring its prisons up to modern standards.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Ellison wrote. “To deny modern technology to inmates today for the simple reason that it was not available to inmates in past generations is an argument that proves too much. No one suggests that inmates should be denied up-to-date medical and psychiatric care, or that they should be denied access to radio or television, or that construction of prison facilities should not use modern building materials. The treatment of prisoners must necessarily evolve as society evolves.” ..Continued..

1 comment:

Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Ret.) said...

Providing adequate cooling and ventilation to prisoners is not a "soft on crime" provision. It is humane and does not stray from common sense, especially for elderly, disable or pregnant prisoners. People are sent to prison AS punishment; not FOR punishment. Clearly, the Federal Judge is correct in his analysis that prison units must be designed and/or made capable of providing cooling that is consistent with modern industrial techniques for commercial buildings. Middle Ground Prison Reform, a prisoner advocacy organization located in Arizona since 1983 is quite familiar with the tragedies that can occur when prisoners are (literally) tortured in the heat. One only need to Google "Marcia Powell Prisoner" to review the horrible death of this Arizona prisoner in 2009 because prison guards claimed they were "unaware" she was suffering in an outdoor metal cage in May, which had no water, shade, bench to sit on, etc.