The Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota near College Station houses some 1,400 Texas prison inmates – many of them over the age of 60 and with medical, disability and other geriatric conditions.
Attorney Brian McGiverin is with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed suit in Houston:
“In this lawsuit, we’re asking a federal court to require the prison system to maintain summer temperatures at the Wallace Pack Unit at 88 degrees or below during the summer,” McGiverin said. “This is not a lawsuit about making prisons comfortable.
“It is merely a lawsuit about trying to ensure that the heat conditions are not lethal. The dangers posed by heat in Texas summers are well-known and uncontroversial.”
He says the danger increases for heat exhaustion, heat cramps and possibly heat stroke when temperatures rise above 95 degrees, for any person, no matter how healthy they are.
“Now that danger is much higher for people who suffer from any manner of common conditions, whether that is simply being over the age of 65, or having a cardiovascular condition or having asthma, or having diabetes, or any number of conditions in a long list that make a person more vulnerable to heat.
“And that danger is even greater,” McGiverin said, “if you are a person that happens to be in the Texas Prison system, because the majority of Texas prisons are made with metal walls, thin insulation and with windows that are sealed shut.”
McGiverin says there is a double standard when it comes to prisons for inmates and officials charged with overseeing them.
“It’s especially outrageous when you take into account two things: One, the facilities in those prisons, where the wardens do their work, where the administrative assistants sit, those are all air-conditioned. It would have been very easy to install air-conditioning in the entire facility,” said McGiverin. “It’s also especially egregious, because every county jail in the state of Texas, whether you’re talking about Harris County or Dallas County, every one of those county jails, is required by the state regulation to maintain their temperatures at 85-degrees or below, year round.”
TDCJ officials could not comment on pending litigation, but in a statement released by the agency, it stated that the well being of prison staff and offenders is a top priority, and officials remain committed to ensuring that both are safe during the extreme heat.