Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lawsuit by Texas prisoners seeks accommodations similar to those given to pigs

Prisoners in Texas are claiming the conditions of the state's prisons violate their constitutional rights. It's too hot, their civil rights suit alleges. As CNN reports:

The suit cites internal data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice which found that over the past three years the mercury topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Thermometer-537x358"Stainless steel tables in the inmate dormitories become hot to the touch" the complaint reads and "prisoners have to lay towels down on the table to rest their elbows while sitting."


In addition to the older inmates, the complaint said a number of men have various underlying medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to heat stroke, like 69-year-old Marvin Yates, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension.


"I don't know if I will make it this summer. The heat and humidity are so bad inside I have trouble breathing," said Yates, one of three named plaintiffs, in a press release announcing the lawsuit.


The lawsuit alleges some 20 deaths since 1998 and details names, ages and internal body temperatures of the victims, including cases where the body temperature recorded was well over 100 degrees. One man, 45-year-old Rodney Adams, died one day after his arrival. His internal temperature registered 109.9.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment," which SCOTUS has long held precludes punishment that degrades human dignity. Prisoners' restricted movement and limited access to prison facilities that have air conditioning - such as the administrative facilities - mean that there is virtually nothing they can do to mitigate exposure to extreme heat. Although Texas law prohibits county jails from allowing facility temperatures to exceed 85 degrees, state facilities are not likewise restricted. Then there's this:

The lawsuit alleges that hogs on Texas Department of Criminal Justice property receive better treatment than the prisoners. "TDCJ policy requires temperatures be kept no higher than 85 degrees to ensure 'pig comfort,'" the suit said, adding that the department begins "to cool the pigs when the temperature goes above 74 degrees to keep the pigs 'comfortable.'"

The lawsuit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, requests that these facilities be made to keep temperatures at 88 degrees or below.

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