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Published on April 23, 2024
Advocacy Groups Sue Texas Over "Cruel" Heat in State Prisons, Demand Air Conditioning After Inmate Health CrisesSource: Unsplash/Jarosław Kwoczała

Advocacy groups in Texas are turning up the heat on the state prison system with a lawsuit that claims extreme temperatures in cells are effectively "cooking" inmates to death. The suit, initially filed by incarcerated man Bernhardt Tiede II, alleges that the lack of air conditioning in the majority of Texas prisons is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, according to Austin American-Statesman.

Known from his portrayal in the film "Bernie," Tiede experienced a serious medical episode in a cell that had reached 112 degrees. The amended complaint, backed by four nonprofit organizations, wants the court to force the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to keep prison temperatures below 85 degrees, a standard already in place for Texas jails. A study from 2022 pointed out that roughly 13% of deaths during warm months in Texas prisons might be linked to extreme heat days, indicating a serious health hazard for inmates and staff, as detailed by Austin American Statesman.

In their call for action, inmates have been documented using desperate measures to cool down, such as flooding their cells with toilet water. Despite the Texas Legislature allocating $85 million for air conditioning units in prisons, the funding falls short of fully addressing the scorching conditions across all TDCJ facilities—an issue that advocacy groups decry as a lack of compassion and action on the state's part.