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Texas Prisoners Bake to Death

More than one hundred people have died during a searing heat wave in Texas this past summer, including at least three prisoners. Dozens of convicts have been treated for heat-related health problems. "I've been with the system 13 years and this has been the most extreme heat we've ever experienced," said Bob Koenig, risk manager for the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice.

The only air-conditioned areas in state prisons are classrooms and work sites that require lower temperatures to operate computers. All other areas, including the sweltering cell blocks, have to be cooled by fans. Prisoners must purchase their own fans, which sell on the commissary for $7.95. Those who can't afford them go without -- in indoor temperatures that have reached an estimated 130 degrees.

Two convicts died on un-air-conditioned buses while being transferred to different units, one in May and one in June. And on July 9, 1998, Emile Duhamel, a mentally ill prisoner on death row, died due to heat-related causes. He was taking medication that made him especially sensitive to high temperatures; guards had taken away his fan. According to prison officials Duhamel died of natural causes. His body was cremated before his family was notified.

Harvey Earvin, a leader of the prison-based group Panthers United for Revolutionary Education (PURE), was placed in solitary confinement after being contacted by the ACLU about heat-related problems in the prison system. "The heat is so oppressive that the guards don't even want to be in the solitary run," he said. "This is like the old sweat boxes they used to have on this unit that were outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1975."

Workers World

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