Heat kills hundreds of prisoners, according to a report from Brown University.
“With climate change, each summer is going to be worse than last. If nothing is done about this, people will continue to die,” said Amite Dominick, the founder of Texas Prisons Community Advocates.
The Brown University School of Public Health reported 271 prisoners died of heat-related causes in un-air conditioned Texas prisons between 2001 and 2019.
One woman complained, “I struggle with the heat so bad… I can’t eat… I can’t gain weight… I get dizzy and headaches… I am weak. I have diarrhea too with leg cramps at night. I have even passed out a few times. I drink plenty of water…Please… help me with any information to get a unit transfer.”
Incarcerated persons have to go through extreme measures just to keep cool, like forcing their cell toilets to overflow so that they can take respite by lying on the wet concrete floors or creating swamp coolers by putting wet t-shirts over fans that they buy from the commissary, the story said.
In 2021 the Texas Legislature passed a bill to require that prisons maintain temperatures between 65° F and 86° F, but it died in committee for lack of funding. A similar bill was introduced this year, but once again legislators failed to fund it.
The United States is predicted to soar to record high temperatures over the next five years due to a combination of human-caused global warming and the El Nino weather pattern, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In a March paper published in the medical journal PLOS One, Skarha found summertime mortality rates from both U.S state and private prisons over the past two decades rose 5.2% for every 10º F increase in temperature above historical averages. That amounts to 635 prison deaths due to high heat since 2001.
“I did five summers in there and it’s inhumane” one incarcerated person wrote, “Your survival mode has to kick in and you end up sleeping on a wet floor with wet clothes with your fan on just to make it.”
Texas heat wave protocols for prisons are that fans should be brought in, but fans aren’t enough, Dominick said. She quoted heat-illness prevention guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control which state that the CDC’s principal recommendation for high heat is air conditioning. “ [It’s] the strongest protective factor…Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness.”