Anywhere you go in Texas, it gets hot. Really hot. Summers always see multiple consecutive days of triple-digit heat. Thank God for the air-conditioner, right?

Too bad thousands upon thousands of Texans do not have this relief from the heat. 70% of Texas Prisons do not have air conditioning, according to Texas Monthly. Instead, prisoners must rely on wet towels, room-temperature water, and brief moments in a "respite" area to cool off. Prisoners get sick, and some of them die. Probably more have died from heat-related illness than we know, as, "extreme heat is often overlooked as a cause of death."

No sympathy for prisoners? Remember, prison staff has to work in those conditions, too. The heat likely doesn't help the insane turnover rate of 40% of corrections staff in Texas. It's also very, very expensive for the state.

Texas has paid out millions in wrongful death and civil lawsuits over prisoner heat deaths, according to the Texas Tribune. Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden by the 8th Amendment- it's in the very marrow of America's bones to do better than this, so why aren't we?

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash
Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

After a legal battle, Wallace Pack Unit did get air-conditioning. It is a unit for elderly prisoners. Just in case you're mentally running a cost/ benefit analysis:

The new air conditioning cost the state about $4 million. The legal fight over installing it cost more than $7 million.

Will anything happen for non-geriatric prisons? Probably after more lawsuits, as I suspect the Texas government doesn't want to be seen spending money on people it deems as undesirable, at least not without a fight. Remember, people in prison can't vote.

However, I think it would be wise for some lawmakers to remember that their non-incarcerated families can vote, and so do people with any empathy for God's children, even those who have made mistakes.

Last year, the Texas House passed a measure to incrementally install air conditioning in all prisons by 2029, capping total costs at $300 million. Lawmakers didn’t provide the money, however, and the Senate never took up the bill.

If we want to keep prisons staffed and safe for everyone, we need to get this done. Imagine a prison riot when there are no guards left to control it. Imagine having to choose between dying of heat exhaustion or doing something really extreme. Which would you pick?

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