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The Source: Are Texas Prisons Cruel And Unusual?

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Texas Prisons will be under the international microscope in an upcoming hearing before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, a part of the Organization of American States. For years, Texas prisons have been criticized for their lack of air conditioning. A year-long investigation by the University of Texas Law School's Human Rights Clinic found what they say are violations of human rights.

Since 2007, at least 14 prison inmates in Texas have died of exposure to heat. According to the UT Law School's Human Rights Clinic's investigation the extreme temperatures inmates are subjected to for long periods of time constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Several family members of the incarcerated have launched cases against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for this reason.

Texas isn't the only state that doesn't air condition its prisons, but the climate in Texas has an especially brutal combination of heat and humidity. Lawsuits against TDCJ have said the prisons are regularly above 100 degrees inside.

This summer TDCJ purchased 700 cold blowing fans, but argued it had nothing to do with pending legal action. The impact of the fans is unknown as they do have some cooling coils. Previous to that, TDCJ did sell small fans to inmates, but as the Centers for Disease control has written, regular air fans do little to prevent heat related stroke, and exposure problems.

What could the results of international scrutiny be?

Guests:

  • Ariel Dulitzky, director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law
  • Lance Lowry, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal employees local 3807 in Huntsville, TX representing prison guards. 

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive