The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project alleges 58-year-old Larry McCollum, an inmate in a Dallas-area prison without air conditioning, died from a heat stroke last summer.
However, Jim Harrington, the project’s executive director, said the lawsuit is not meant to force the state of Texas into retrofitting 90 of its older prisons.
“This is not about making prison life easy,” Harrington said.
He said the lawsuit seeks to “change the conditions of confinement” especially for older inmates and those with medical conditions like McCollum, who are most vulnerable to the heat.
“We have a number of people that die all the time every year,” said Harrington.
He said at least nine died of heat stroke or heat-related causes last summer.
“It doesn’t seem to move the conscience of the department,” Harrington said.
However, Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said, “The agency is committed to making sure that all are safe in extreme heat.”
Clark said its heat protocol includes providing water and ice, limiting outdoor activity, fans and blowers are in use, and additional showers and wearing shorts are allowed.
Clark said of 111 prison units, only 21 are fully air-conditioned.
He said correctional officers and staff work in the same conditions.
But Harrington said the lawsuit will try to change “the haphazard way they assign people.”
“It is absurd. It’s callous and ultimately unconstitutional,” Harrington said.
Still public opinion differs on the issue.
Marco Garza, who said he works for a company that builds prisons, said inmates are not lacking A/C.
“They need to keep them calm because some inmates, you get them too hot, they get riled up,” Garza said, putting correctional officers at risk.
He said there are places for them to cool off.
“It’s not bad, not as bad as what got them there,” Garza said.
Yet when asked her opinion, Jo Bredvad said, “It’s not for us to judge whether they should suffer in the heat. I think that’s just inhumane.”