Inmates who were relocated as a result of Hurricane Harvey will once again be transferred after a judge ruled that they, like 1,000 prisoners before them, should not be subject to the grueling Texas heat without air conditioning while in prison.
Judge Keith Ellison ruled back in July that “heat-sensitive” prisoners housed in the Wallace Pack Unit prison in Navasota, Texas needed to have air conditioning, prompting the transfer of approximately 1,000 inmates to other state prisons
with adequate air conditioning. After Harvey hit, 600 prisoners were evacuated from Stringfellow Unit south of Houston, and placed in that same Pack Unit, which houses a maximum of 1,405 inmates (according to a Texas Tribune database
So, like their predecessors, the 600 inmates have joined an ongoing lawsuit about the living conditions at Park Unit, after the same judge ruled on September 14 that their health would also be at risk due to heat exposure in the prison, according to the Associated Press
Roughly 70 percent of Texas prisons do not have air conditioning, and at least 22 inmates have died since 1998
in Texas prisons from heat-related causes. The Department of Criminal Justice previously argued installing air conditioning in prisons would be far too costly, while plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit dispute the cost, saying TDCJ is overshooting their estimate by calculating the cost of “gold-plated Rolls Royce, diamond-dust-on-top
” air conditioning units, not ones that would meet the basic needs of prisoners.
In his preliminary injunction from July, Ellison said that keeping prisoners in facilities that routinely reach up to 95-100 degrees is cruel and unusual punishment, and that “even those admittedly guilty of the most heinous crimes must not be denied their constitutional rights.”