by Ed Lyon
Between 1998 and 2014, at least 23 Texas prisoners died due to excessive heat in housing units and transport buses. Most Texas state prisons are not air conditioned. A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit initially resulted in an injunction and then a settlement agreement to address heat-related issues that was approved by the district court in May 2018. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.1].
During that case, which cost the state over $7 million in litigation expenses, an expert for the prison system falsely testified in 2017 that it would cost $20 million to air condition the unit, while experts for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represented the prisoners, presented a more realistic $450,000 figure.
The state’s original estimate to air condition the Wallace Pack Unit dropped to $11 million before the settlement. Since then, the state comptroller’s office lowered that cost to $7 million because construction upgrades were not needed. Then, in August 2018, the cost to air condition the prison dropped again to $4 million – significantly less than the original estimate and around half what it cost the state to litigate the case.
“The easiest, smartest and most humane thing to do is to simply move ahead with making the necessary changes in the facilities rather than spending their time trying to fight a battle,” remarked Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin.
Also in August 2018, Texas prison officials announced they would install air conditioning at another facility, the Hodge Unit, which houses prisoners who are elderly or have medical conditions. That installation is expected to cost $2 million.
Texas prisons are now providing air-conditioned respite areas, cold showers, ice and electrolyte drinks to prisoners during extremely hot weather.
Sources: www.texastribune.org, www.chron.com
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