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Your Right To Stay Cool: Air Conditioning in Prisons

Fifty years ago (base 10), when I was a kid in the South, only the rich had air conditioning. Now two lawsuits are challenging the lack of air conditioning in Texas prisons:

Only 21 of the 111 prisons overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency, are fully air-conditioned. Many of the prisons that do have air-conditioning in areas where medical services or educational programs are provided to inmates do not offer it in the sections where they live.

Inmates and their families have complained for years about the heat and lack of air-conditioning in the summertime, but the issue has taken on a new urgency. An appeal is pending in a lawsuit initially filed in 2008 by a former inmate claiming that 54 prisoners were exposed to Death Valley-like conditions at a South Texas prison where the heat index exceeded 126 degrees for 10 days indoors. And several inmates at other prisons died of heat-related causes last summer; a lawsuit was filed Tuesday in one of those deaths.

Over time, the luxuries of the rich become the necessities of the poor (or incarcerated). People can now argue with a straight face that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deprive someone of their right to stay cool. This is called progress, and it is a good thing.

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  • BravoRomeoDelta

    Dear Mr. Mead,

    At the risk of being a bit thick, was your sentence “This is called progress, and it is a good thing.” intended to be sarcastic or sincere?

    Thank you,


  • WigWag

    Most people can simply open the windows in the summer heat if there is no air-conditioning; obviously prisoners can’t. Of course they need air-conditioning. The idea that prisoners should have their health or lives placed at risk because state officials won’t install a technology that has been available for more than 70 years is absurd.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Excuse me, but they are there to be punished, a little physical discomfort which is normal for most of mankind in the third world, can be considered part of that punishment. If you do the crime, you must pay the price. Creating resorts out of our prisons isn’t going to provide much of a deterrent to crime, where as providing a glimpse of hell would make many criminals think twice before committing a crime.

  • Jim.

    We should try to keep our priorities straight, here.

    In California, state-run prisons got air conditioning before state-run children’s hospitals.

    Sure, it’s good that prisons are reasonably free from typhus, deadly cold, and other conditions that can kill people.

    But make sure that schools get the A/C first.

  • Dave Brickner

    It’s cool in Siberia and many prisoners are illegal aliens anyhow…..soooo

  • Corlyss

    Air Conditioning and the Voting Rights/Civil Rights twin statues create the southern sun belt explosion.

    We should worry less about whether anti-social criminals have a/c than what exactly are EPA’s plans to “nudge” the country out of such energy-hog luxuries as a/c.

  • RP

    One change that has a big impact on this is the change in architecture. Half a century ago buildings in Texas were designed with climate in mind. Houses were laid out to allow breeezes to flow through unimpeded. Likewise they had tall windows, large shaded porches, and very tall ceilings or attics to allow heat to flow up and away from occupants. (Are there any Southerners here that remember sleeping porches?)

    Most buildings now (likely including prisons) are designed with climate control as an assumption. It’s very easy for interiors without air conditioning to reach 110+ in the summer here. That’s part of the reason why there are so many deaths and illnesses during power and A/C outages now. There is nothing in the design of the structure to mitigate summer heat as there used to be.

    I grew up in a house without A/C here in Texas in the 70’s and 80’s. But it was a house build in the 1940’s with all of the design elements I mentioned. That kept things bearable. I would hate to be in a modern McMansion without A/C.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the last paragraph of this post:
    that the luxuries of the rich become the “necessities” of the poor, is indeed progress, and a good thing.

    That “people” argue with a straight face that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deprive someone of their “right” to stay cool, is proof positive that American “liberals” are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes.
    (No offense meant to the original Marie Antoinette.)

  • Kris
  • Soul

    I sometimes have wondered what impact air-conditioning has had on our health, in particular weight gain. What we eat undoubtably plays the largest role with that, and the old popular habit of smoking effects weight gain also, but constantly being cool, not sweating I’m guessing plays a part in putting on weight. In our modern world, we work in doors most of the day now, away. Possibly that tricks the body into believing it is a good time to stock up, put on weight, for the harsh times of winter. Hard to say.

    I’ll probably be posting some of the health articles in the future. It’s what I’m most familiar with, doesn’t take much time, and a helpful cause to get involved with. I’ll probably talk to the guys in the future about reference help, if need be. At this point where I feel I’m getting well to the gut, I need to feel I’m working toward going forward with future work. Not sure If I’ll need any help, or even how much I want to invest into myself, but if need be that would be nice.

    The political articles are a whole different can of worms. Doing that takes a great deal of time, along with having risks, and it appears I have family members that are not all that keen on this hobby. It’s understandable. But with that said, if overseas in Europe begins to fall apart, I’ll see what I can do to help. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen! But it hard to imagine how it will not.

  • jaed

    Being kept in temperatures that will kill people is not reasonable punishment.

    Someone who is free can open a window, turn on a fan, go somewhere that’s cool, or live in a house that doesn’t overheat in summer. Prisoners cannot do any of this. If we keep them forcibly in these conditions, we have an obligation to ameliorate them at least to the point where their lives are not in danger.

    (Do I really need to explain this? Sheesh.)

  • roadgeek

    Texas taxpayers, and Im one of them, will never approve of paying for a/c for prisons. Never ever. A federal judge will need to shove this down our throats before it ever happens.

  • Robert

    Check out the old Arizona Territorial Prison in Yuma. No a/c, but it did have flow-through ventilation.

  • Joe

    Texas will save on security costs what it spends on the AC. Sure, maybe it ‘used to be worse,’ (didn’t everything?) but confining men in 100 + degree temperatures, combined with the internal humidity, is both physically and mentally unhealthy – first because everyone gets hot, second because people get stabbed to death in the resultant heat malaise.

    This is a pretty basic living standard that should’ve been implemented a while ago.

  • Peggy

    You are sentenced to prison for whatever amount of time that you are given, that is your punishment. You are not to be punished while you are incarcerated. 120 degree heat in a cell or dorm that you cannot remove yourself from at will is cruel and unusual punishment. When you enter TDCJ you are the states responsibility and should be safeguarded against dying in your cell for lack of hydration and ventilation.

  • Rob

    Solar heated swimming pools for winter have been around for over 30 years, don’t convicts deserve these too. Shopping malls have been around for 50 years, shouldn’t these malls be installed in prisons for the prisoners so they can work on reform. Guns have been around for a few hundred years, shouldn’t gun ranges be installed for prisoners enjoyment along with gun safety classes. What about the victims, if they are still alive, is anyone concerned if they can afford or even have air conditioning where they live.

  • Rob

    Being convicted of a crime and sentenced to serving time in jail or prison is not an entitlement and should not be treated as such. How is it that truck drivers are not allowed to idle there truck engines to keep warm in cold weather or cool in extreme heat. That’s right, they can be fined extremely high fines and jail time for 1st offenders. Google this for yourself, you will be amazed at what you find.

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