A Bunk Bed With Striped Linen Behind Bars
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Prison rights advocates filed a complaint against Texas' system seeking protections from extreme heat for inmates, saying that living under such conditions amounts to cruel punishment.

Concretely, the complaint was filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice by four nonprofit organizations and requested that all state prisons be kept under 85°F. State jails already have to operate under that threshold and federal prisons in the state need to be kept under 76°F.

To achieve this, the advocates joined a lawsuit filed by an inmate who collapsed after being in a cell in a Huntsville facility that reached 110 °F. The inmate, well-known murdered Bernie Tiede, was moved to an air-conditioned cell following a court order, but he's not guaranteed to stay there.

The complaint seeks to expand the treatment to all inmates who are currently in uncooled prisons. According to The Texas Tribune, extreme heat has caused the death of dozens of inmates and cost the state millions of dollars due to lawsuits resulting from these fatalities.

The state hasn't reported heat-related deaths since 2012 but a 2022 study concluded that 14 deaths every year were directly associated with heat, even if the term wasn't present in the death certificate. Namely, diseases include renal diseases, cardiovascular mortality, respiratory illnesses and suicides.

"Heat deaths haven't magically stopped," says the lawsuit. "TDCJ has simply stopped reporting or admitting them after the multiple wrongful death lawsuits and national news coverage."

Earth continues to shatter heat records, and the trend is only pointing upwards. 2024's was the hottest March on record and the tenth straight month of historic heat, according to Europe's climate monitor.

The EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said that March globally was 1.68 degrees Celsius hotter than an average March between the years 1850-1900, the reference period for the pre-industrial era.

Texas in particular has experienced over 1,000 days of record-breaking heat. Prison cells can reach over 130 °F during the summer, formerly incarcerated Texans said in a press conference on Monday.

"What is truly infuriating is the failure to acknowledge that everyone in the system —all 130,000 prisoners— are at direct risk of being impacted by something that has a simple solution that has been around since the 1930s, and that is air conditioning," said attorney Jeff Edwards.

TDCJ spokesperson Amanda Hernandez didn't discuss the lawsuit, but said that authorities have been adding air conditioning units over the past years. "Each year we've been working to add cool beds, and we'll continue to do so," she said.

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