Lawsuit alleges Texas prisons are inhumane due to lacking AC

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by khou.com staff

Andrew Horanski / KHOU 11 News

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 12:04 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 28 at 12:20 AM

HOUSTON—Prison isn’t designed to be cushy, but there are allegations that Texas prisons may be downright inhumane due to the lack of air conditioning.

According to the Texas Civil Rights Project less than a quarter of the state’s 111 prisons are fully air conditioned.

Advocates say inmates often stew in triple digit heat and some have even died.

“You almost end up in a situation where people are put in an oven. You know these are very inhumane conditions,” said Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Last summer, Stephen McCollum said he lost his father at a jail near Dallas.

“He made it three days in that place before the heat took over his body and pretty much killed him,” he said. “I mean there’s pets in pounds that have better conditions. There’s people in Guantanamo Bay that have better conditions than my father had. And it’s heartbreaking.”

Advocates say he wasn’t alone and that last year the prison heat also killed a handful of other people.

That is why the state’s prisons are now at the center of two lawsuits, alleging that conditions are cruel and unusual.

Houston Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the state’s Criminal Justice Committee, said the cost of air conditioning the state’s prisons would be too expensive and that the lawsuits won’t get anywhere. 

“The bottom line is it is a miserable place to be. Prison is not a pleasant place and it was actually designed to be not pleasant,” he said.

Whitmire said he also believes that many inmates enter with pre-existing conditions and that’s what’s behind their deaths.

“Most of them have other health issues. It’s a very unhealthy population,” he said.

McCollum’s 58-year old father had a history of hypertension and weighed over 300 pounds when he died.  Still, he believes that death was premature.

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