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Texas To Move 1,000 Inmates After Judge Says Heat Is Cruel And Unusual

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Texas is temporarily moving 1,000 inmates out of several state jails due to a July court ruling that the lack of air conditioning constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, officials said Thursday.

Wallace Pack Unit prison recorded indoor temperatures upward of 88 degrees, and 1,000 of its inmates who are deemed “heat sensitive” will be moved to cooler facilities.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled in July that the state had 15 days to find a solution to the over-heated jails, claiming corrections officials had been “deliberately indifferent,” My Statesman reported Thursday.

Prison officials have argued adding A/C systems to facilities that were designed without them would cost millions of taxpayer dollars. In compliance with the 15-day limit, officials temporarily moved the prisoners to air conditioned facilities while filing an appeal to Ellison’s ruling.

“We’ll appeal the decision and are confident that TDCJ is already doing what is constitutionally required to adequately safeguard offenders from heat-related illnesses,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said of last month’s ruling.

While no heat-related deaths have been recorded in the state this year, Ellison found that the temperatures were potentially harmful to inmates, especially those suffering from diabetes or hypertension. He said the A/C systems don’t have to be capable of making the prisons comfortable, but they must eliminate the possibility of injury.

Historically, 23 Texas inmates have died from heat since 1998, the Houston Chronicle reported. Previously, Texas required temperatures to be kept between 65-85 degrees, but with 80 percent of inmates living without A/C, the regulation is often weather dependent.

The state revised its policy in response to Ellisons ruling, allowing inmates to seek relief regardless of whether they feel ill, added screens to keep out bugs, and revised its heat wave policy to make the events more comfortable for inmates.

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