Attorney General Ken Paxton today voiced his disappointment after a federal judge sided with a group of Texas inmates who sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) over summer heat conditions at the Wallace Pack Unit northwest of Houston.
Among other things, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison granted a preliminary injunction that orders the TDCJ to lower the temperatures in the Pack Unit’s housing areas where heat-sensitive inmates reside to a heat index of no more than 88 degrees or transfer them to other jails, and provide even young and healthy inmates access to unlimited periods in air-conditioned respite areas. The court refused to grant all of the relief the plaintiffs sought, such as retrofitting the Unit with a permanent air conditioning system.
“The judge’s ruling downplays the substantial precautions TDCJ already has in place to protect inmates from the summer heat,” Attorney General Paxton said. “Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to pay for expensive prison air conditioning systems, which are unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated. We’ll appeal the decision and are confident that TDCJ is already doing what is constitutionally required to adequately safeguard offenders from heat-related illnesses.”
It has been estimated it would have cost TDCJ $20 million to retrofit the Pack Unit with a permanent air conditioning system had the Court required TDCJ to provide such a remedy. To mitigate potential health problems from the heat, Pack Unit offenders are constantly provided ice water, along with fans and other ventilation, cool-down showers, unlimited rest periods in air-conditioned areas, and education concerning heat precautions. When heat conditions warrant, normal inmate activity is restricted. In addition, prison employees are trained and instructed to identify those that may have heat-related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for treatment.