It's chill-out time for some heat-sensitive Texas prison inmates. This week, the state began the process of transferring about 1,000 inmates from the Pack Unit near College Station to air conditioned facilities in other parts of the state. Most of the inmates will be sent to either the Diboll prison near Lufkin or the Travis County State Jail in Austin.
The move comes after a judge issued an emergency order to the state earlier this summer, in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by prisoners last year. "Prisoners at the Pack Unit have said that their living conditions during the summer in the heat constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and that temperatures should be kept below 88 degrees inside," says Jolie McCullough, who is covering this issue for the Texas Tribune. "The judge issued a temporary order to provide air conditioning for a certain sub-group of prisoners, those who are medically sensitive." That includes those who are elderly, obese, have heart problems or are on medications that interfere with the body's cooling system.
The judge's order came after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) argued that air conditioning all state prisons would be a costly, difficult and unnecessary use of state resources for people who are supposed to be serving punishment for crimes. But the judge sided with the inmates' arguments. "The prisoners argue that this is about safety, not comfort, which is why they say the temperature should be kept below 88 degrees---not something like 72 or something that we would think of as comfortable," says McCullough.
The broader lawsuit is still pending, and the judge's order is only temporary. "The prisoners will be moved to places with air conditioning for the duration of the summer," says McCullough. She reports that nearly 75 percent of Texas prisons and state jails have no air conditioning in the inmates' living areas.