Report: At Least 14 Heat-Related Deaths in Texas Prisons Since 2007

By Julianne Hing Apr 25, 2014

Overheating in Texas prisons is a deadly issue, according to a new report (PDF) from the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic reported by the Texas Tribune. Since 2007 at least 14 inmates in Texas state facilities have died as a result of overheating. The report’s authors call the conditions a violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

Just how hot does it get? According to temperature logs kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, heat indices in some facilities surpassed 100 degrees by 8:30 in the morning, with temperatures spiking above 110 degrees for a heat index of 149 degrees. Investigations into heat-related deaths at state facilities found that temperatures were into the 90’s, even past midnight. These heat levels put people at "extreme danger" of heat disorders, according to the National Weather Service

And yet, Texas has repeatedly failed to provide proper air conditioning and ventilation to inmates, even though federal appellate courts have found that submitting inmates to extreme heat is a violation of inmates’ constitutional rights. 

And it’s not just affecting inmates. In 2012, 92 correctional officers suffered from heat-related injuries, the Texas Tribune reported. And while TDCJ facilities lack air conditioning for the general inmates population, "At the same time, the TDCJ has spent money on air conditioning for its warden offices and for its armories," write report authors. Adding air conditioning to state prisons is "extremely expensive," TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark told the Texas Tribune.

Texas isn’t alone. Last year death row inmates at Louisana’s notorious Angola Prison filed a lawsuit charging the state corrections department with failing to provide relief for inmates on death row, where temperatures reach a whopping 195 degrees.