Ten Inmates Died From Heat in Texas Prisons Last Summer, and Nothing's Going to Change

Categories: Crime

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Last month, the daughter of Larry Gene McCollum sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. McCollum was serving an 11-month sentence at Hutchins State Jail in Dallas last summer when, after days in a cell where the temperature neared triple digits, he had a seizure. He was taken to the hospital, where his temperature peaked at 109.4 degrees. He fell into a coma and died six days later of hyperthermia.

The crux of the lawsuit was that the state fails to take proper measures to protect its charges from heat, which, in the Texas summer, can amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Of TDCJ's 111 units, only 21 are fully air conditioned, the suit points out. In 2011 alone, it claims, there were nine heat-related deaths.

That number -- nine dead in one summer -- came from a legislative aide, TCCJ's Scott Medlock told us. In fact, though, records provided to Unfair Park by the state show there was one more: 10 heat-related deaths in Texas prisons in 2011, all in the course of 30 very hot days.

Either way, that's an alarming number, even if the summer of 2011 was an aberration. Since 2005, only two other prisoners suffered heat-related deaths, both in 2007. Each of the prisoners who died had an underlying medical condition, as you can see below, but the likely cause of death in all is hyperthermia.

TDCJ says it takes steps during the summer to ensure its inmates stay as cool as possible and well hydrated, but as last summer proved, that hasn't fixed the problem. A real solution is as simple as it would be controversial: a law setting a maximum indoor temperature of 85 degrees for state prisons, just like there is for county jails.

That's not going to happen. For one, it's too easy for policymakers to dismiss. Keith Price, a professor at West Texas A&M and former warden, told the Times that, really, 10 prisoners of 150,000 dying in a year is not a big deal. It's kinda their own fault, really.

"Just from a statistical standpoint, that's really not significant, particularly when you consider the population," Price said. "Many inmates are poorly equipped to manage their lives and thus make poor decisions. I do not believe it is up to the taxpayers to provide air-conditioning for inmates when some simple self-discipline would avoid many of these problems."

But what it's really about is money. Legislators will never vote to spend any amount of cash to give prisoners air conditions. In the current climate, that's political suicide. Much easier to say they're bad people who deserve what happens to them, at least until a court says otherwise.


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26 comments
charles.hill
charles.hill

Do they then put the corpses of those overheated people into a chilled morgue? 

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

It would be cheaper to get the A/C than to have to defend NOT getting it when someone gets smart and sues Texas for negligent deaths. I don't care if they are guilty as sin or innocent as a newborn baby, they are human beings, and we are supposed to be better than all the cliche attitudes on them "getting what they deserve" crap. Oh, and that guy Jesus Christ? Yea, he aid something about visitng him in jail--and when asked when he was in jail--you finish it. If you don't know it, look it up. Maybe that is your problem to begin with.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

but NONE of the criminals on DEATH ROW died, did they.....what is wrong with this picture???

wineinabox
wineinabox

Yep, in East Texas we did not get A/C window units until about 1974.  We lived with attic fans, box fans and getting nekkid in the yard with a waterhose!  After a good hose down, some ice cold Schlitz and settling down with the windows open, a fan watching the Curtis Mathes TV with a VCR the size of a small suitcase.  Prisoners get 3 meals a day with free medical/dental care and room and board.  Strip them all nekkid and provide a waterhose.  Those mens will have some fun times.

randy
randy

Trying to care, trying to care, trying to care, nope...

 

I might point out that many older Texans can recall when everyone lived here without a/c.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

I know this sounds radical, but how does the penal system get rated unacceptable by courts and is still allowed to operate?  Principled judges like Barefoot Sanders don't get appointed anymore.  How is this not 'cruel and unusual punishment?'

ChrisDangerShow
ChrisDangerShow

Wow, hence why Texas has the reputation of being a bad place worldwide. This state and its leaders lack a moral compass or common sense when it comes to this. Of course, this is the same state thats killed a couple of innocent folks over the years in huntsville, so this minor blip doesnt probably wont register either..

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Our military loses more than that in heat-related training accidents.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @wineinabox but they don't get the water, don't get the attic fans.   Also, juxtapose these conditions with jails, which are kept at frigid temps.  They say it's to keep disease from spreading; but both are likely a mild form of torture.  At least the US military deliberately uses heat and cold for those ends.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @randy in buildings that were designed to maximize airflow, with screened in porches and other accommodations not offered to wards of the state

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @scottindallas

 barefoot sanders was maybe "principaled", but he destroyed the school systems and created a huge amount of racial discord in Dallas.  That kind of principle is very overrated.

cheeseburger
cheeseburger

 @scottindallas Before AC, just living in Texas was "cruel and unusual punishment."  Air conditioning is a privilege, not a right.  The article said that those who died had underlying medical conditions.  I would concede that those who have medical conditions should be looked after more carefully in the heat, but everyone else should just sweat it out like our grandparents used to.  There's nothing cruel and unusual about that.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @holmantx That's voluntary.  I don't think martyrdom should be compulsory

icowrich
icowrich

 @ObserverIsWhiteGuilt Only those who don't want to pay higher taxes to pay for all these wrongful death claims.  But, you know, if you like paying taxes...

engmofo
engmofo

 @ObserverIsWhiteGuilt Ohhhhh I don't know ...........Anyone with half a moral compass.There again thats never been very big with your "kind"has it?

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @scottindallas

 you never saw Rusk State Hospital for the Criminal Mentally Ill in the 1950s obviously.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @cheeseburger Buildings in those days were designed for that.  Evidently, these prisons aren't as well designed. 

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @icowrich

 shorten the lives of inmates and bar any civil lawsuits against the state for incarcerated crimnals convicted in Texas courts.

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