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Texas Prisons: Air-Condition or Not to Air-Condition Debate Rages

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More than  70 percent of Texas prisons do not have air conditioning throughout their facilities, and Texas prisoners and officers are feeling the heat. This issue is at the center of a yearlong debate between prisoner advocates and corrections officials about whether or not the heat poses a threat to the prisoners’ lives and if it is considered unconstitutionally inhumane to make them live in such conditions.

Prison officials mainly worry about the cost of adding air conditioning to current facilities, but advocates say that with 150,000 inmates across the state, many will suffer with cells reaching over 100 degrees. Prison, of course, exists as a punishment for criminals, but advocates say that excessive heat is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

As the Law Officer reports, only 30 out of 109 Texas prisons have fully air-conditioned facilities, and “particular areas of other units are air-conditioned, as are medical, geriatric, and psychiatric facilities. Since 1998, prisoner advocates say at least 20 inmates have died from heat-related causes.”

Prison officials note that officers are trained to recognize overheating and that they can offer ice water to inmates and let them shower more often to cool off. Regardless of this declaration, the debate is expected to continue since neither side is backing down.