We always dread yet expect triple-digit weather for over 100 days of the year, and it's not the “tradition” of extreme weather that anyone is used to. Prisoners aren't either, but they are also trapped in an oven for 22 hours a day with no air-conditioning or a safe way to cool down.
The heat index in California and other scorching states such as Texas to up to 150 degrees, and the heat waves impact officers and staff as well. Prisoners are known to flood their toilets so that they can lay on the ground with cool water or start a fight because their bunkmate's sweat dropped onto their face when sleeping on the lower bed. According to the Versa Institute of Justice, exposure to high heat alone can lead to increases in aggression, suicide, poor cognitive functioning, and overall poor mental health.1 Many imprisoned individuals are also diagnosed with a mental illness are often prescribed psychotropics and other medications that can make bodies prone to heat sensitivity and make it difficult to cool down.
People have unfortunately passed away in prisons from heat-related causes, leading to lawsuits that demand air-conditioning amenities inside facilities. According to Fast Company, “It's difficult to know just how well—or how many—prisons and jails are equipped to deal with extreme heat, because there are so many correctional jurisdictions spread throughout the U.S.” Each facility has its own specific development as well as a set of rules that are administered by different officials.
Over 6,500 facilities across the nation are marked for climate risks through a research investigation conducted by The Intercept, a news organization that focuses on criminal justice reform from a non-corporate standpoint. The Intercept's project called Climate and Punishment hosted by Alleen Brown, accumulates of different impacts that climate change provokes and what that would mean for prisoners from all levels of facilities. Flooding, wildfires, and other natural disasters that incarcerated persons cannot flee from and are already suffering from the consequences of these environmental dangers.
Texas has been hit the hardest with the casualties of boiling days within the prison system, as most jails and centers don't have air-conditioning. To many prisoners, it feels like a death sentence. The Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Advocates (TPCA), an organization that supports prisoners and their families, they are the main assistance and sometimes first-responders in hearing about those on the inside struggle surviving inside the muggy cells and their families whom are deeply concerned about their well-being.
TPCA has been a forefront in passing legislation that would mandate prisons to input air-conditioning and climate control systems in all state-run facilities. In May 2021, a bill was introduced to the Texas House of Representatives for $545 million budgeting for prison air conditioning, passing onto the Senate to approve.
“This bill is not just about inmates. It's about the hard working men and women and staff, many of whom work 16 to 24 hours a day, six days a week,” said Clifton Buchanan, a former corrections officer and deputy director of Texas Correctional Employees Council, at a legislative hearing on Canales' bill last month.2
However, the bill was rejected in the Senate a few months ago after the committee to which it was referred failed to hold a public hearing on the bill. Lawmakers claim that the people of Texas don't want air-conditioned prisons despite the benefits extending to assisting the guards. Despite the defense of these installations of circulating cool air in jails would be a “financial deficit,” the amount of money distributed in settlements from Texas legislature for wrongful death due to heat-related causes in prisons is counterintuitive and doesn't resolve the problem.
Advocates argue that the lack of air conditioning is in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, and the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection to citizens according to the Star Telegram. TPCA further argued that prisoners in Texas are treated and recognized as enslaved individuals to the prison system, referring to the 13th Amendment.
Having fewer people in prisons would also help in other extreme weather scenarios. Installing air-conditioning only addresses heat, but as climate change worsens, so will flooding, extreme storms, and more, all of which pose an extra threat to people who are incarcerated. (In 2018, South Carolina did not evacuate its prisons for Hurricane Florence; it's not the only state that has left prisoners in the path of natural disasters.)3
At this time, TPCA is donating colling towels to different facilities throughout Texas prisons for inmates during this sweltering summer season. To help, you can donate online to aide the cost of the towels, with 10 towels for $20, up to 250 towels for $500. Here is the link to their site to donate: Please help us bring relief to incarcerated Texas citizens. (everyaction.com)
The fight is still not over in Texas and other states across the country including California for air conditioning systems with fair treatment in hot conditions. TPCA has petitions that urge legislators to fund these facilities in making this critical change for prisons an actual reality. Please click here to view and sign the current petition that support prisoners: https://secure.everyaction.com/D1hKe_kLiUGwub1O9Xnb7A2