Texas inmates relocated from hot prison to temporary facilities

Texas inmates relocated from hot prison to temporary facilities
Posted at 4:42 AM, Aug 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-10 06:42:09-04

After a years-long legal battle, about 1,000 inmates will literally catch a break from the infamous Texas heat.

On Wednesday, inmates held at the Wallace Pack Unit, a state prison about 75 miles northwest of Houston, be moved to air- conditioned facilities.

The prison transfers stem from a lawsuit filed in 2014 seeking cooler temperatures for inmates, citing a spate of deaths in previous years.

In 2016, the heat index at the Wallace Pack Unit, built in 1983, surpassed 100 degrees on 13 days and hovered around 90 degrees for 55 days, a federal judge ruling notes.

Last month, the federal judge ordered the state prison to cool off for the sake of the inmates' health. No heat-related deaths have been reported at the prison, but at least 23 men have died because of heat in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities since 1998, the judge wrote.

Texas statute mandates that county jails keep temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees inside, but the state system, according to the complaint, has no such requirement.

The judge ordered the TDCJ to come up with a plan within 15 days to house "heat-sensitive" inmates -- such as the elderly and disabled -- in dormitories with temperatures of no more than 88 degrees and give additional inmates access to respite areas, a preliminary injunction said.

The agency came up with a plan, but prison officials said it would be too costly and probably ineffective.

"Adding temporary air conditioning in a prison not built for AC would be costly and it's unknown whether untested equipment would bring the heat index to a level required by the court," Jason Clark, a spokesman with the department said in a statement to CNN affiliate KBTX.

Transferring some inmates to already air-conditioned areas within the prison posed "security concerns and would not be logistically feasible," Clark said.

For that reason, the corrections agency announced last week that instead of fixing the prison, they were opting to transfer the inmates.

On Wednesday, some inmates will travel about 115 miles west to the Travis County State Jail in Austin while others will go about 120 miles east to the Diboll Correctional Center in Diboll.

"The agency has the capabilities and experience to move offenders and has done so in emergency situations," Clark said.

It's unclear how long the inmates will stay at the new facilities, but officials have said it's not a long-term solution because there's a lack of infrastructure.

Living in a hot prison

Richard King, 71, says he sweats profusely. When he lies down, sweat pools in his eyes. When he tries to write letters, the moisture drips all over his paper.

Like many other inmates at Wallace Pack Unit, King suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

At a hearing in July, King said he that it is often cooler to lie on the concrete floors than in his bunk, because his personal fan blows hot air and does not have a cooling effect.

Inmates are allowed to wear shorts and T-shirts in housing areas during summer months. They can seek relief in air-conditioned areas, including an infirmary, administration offices, visitation areas, the education department and the barbershop.