US prisons are poorly run and do not even give inmates sufficient drinking water
Alice Speri reports in The Intercept:
In the summer months, 84 inmates at the Price Daniel Unit, a medium-security prison four hours west of Dallas, share a 10-gallon cooler of water that’s kept locked in a common area. An inmate there can expect to receive one 8 oz. cup every four hours, according to Benny Hernandez, a man serving a 10-year sentence at the prison. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults drink about twice that amount under normal conditions and even more in hot climates. According to Hernandez, in the summer the temperature in his prison’s housing areas can reach an astonishing 140 degrees.
The prison provides ice for the cooler twice a day, but the ice has long melted before the hottest part of the day, he wrote in a post on Prison Writers, a website where inmates share their experiences behind bars. “Prisoners look upon the summer months in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) with dread and trepidation,” he wrote. “For one is acutely aware that one may not survive another summer. Many do not.”
The TDCJ, which runs Texas prisons and houses more than 146,000 inmates, is currently in the middle of litigation over what inmates and advocates have said is deadly heat in its facilities. But Texas is not the only state facing such lawsuits. Louisiana is defending its refusal to install air conditioning on death row, while prisons and jails across the country have been ordered by courts to address their sweltering temperatures and extend protections to inmates, particularly the ill and elderly.
A spokesperson for TDCJ wrote in a statement to The Intercept that “the well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat.” He said that only 30 of the state’s 109 prisons have air conditioning in all inmate housing areas, because many were built before that became a common feature and retrofitting them would be “extremely expensive.” Instead, he said, the agency has taken measures like offering water and ice, restricting inmate activities, and training staff to recognize heat-related illness. The spokesperson said that inmates have “the ability to access water throughout the day” and that ice and water coolers are refilled continuously — contradicting the accounts of inmates who said that ice rations are often reduced and sometimes outright denied, that in some facilities they are given no ice or cold water for days at a time, that ice is so scarce that inmates will buy it off each other, and that inmates residing in a given cell block are given ice water to pass down the row of cells, which often leads to violence and hoarding of the vital resource.
Hernandez, the Price Daniel Unit inmate, acknowledged that prison officials there took some “precautionary measures,” like the water cooler and placing fans in common areas of the prison, but said that was hardly enough. Inmates have fans in their cells only if they can afford to buy them from the prison commissary, and “once the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the fans simply circulate hot air,” he wrote.
“It routinely feels as if one’s sitting in a convection oven being slowly cooked alive.”
In a 2014 report documenting the “deadly heat” inside Texas prisons, researchers with the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic found that since 2007, at least 14 inmates had died from extreme heat exposure in prisons across the state. The report documented at length the . . .
Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more and it’s disgusting, describing callous (and even criminal) neglect of human rights and the health of prisoners. Texas, of course, is a particular example of a state government that fails to address the needs of its citizens, but other states also fail to meet minimal human-rights standards.
Later in the article:
. . . “Part of the reason why you see this kind of irrational behavior — spending far more to fight the lawsuit than it would cost to just air-condition the prison — is because AC is seen as a luxury and prison officials don’t want to be seen as running luxurious prisons,” said Fathi. “Climate control is not a matter of comfort and luxury — it’s a matter of life or death.”
So far, the ACLU and other rights groups have been making that case one facility at a time. In Wisconsin, they won a court order to air-condition a prison where temperatures were reaching “potentially lethal levels.” In Mississippi, they won an order to provide fans, iced water, and daily showers when the heat index exceeds 90 degrees. They also secured protections for inmates more susceptible to heat-related injury at the Baltimore City Jail. In the Maricopa County jail in Arizona, run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the ACLU won an order that inmates on certain kinds of medication that make them more vulnerable to heat be housed in temperatures of 85 degrees or below.
“Unfortunately, because we have this very decentralized criminal justice system, you have to fight it out state by state and facility by facility” said Fathi. . .