TDCJ releases plans for air conditioning construction projects

There are currently only 31 fully air-conditioned units within TDCJ

An advocate for cooling Texas prisons walks past a makeshift cell during a rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Austin, Texas. The group is calling for an emergency special session to address the deadly heat effecting inmates. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

After a summer with record-breaking temperatures, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released plans for air condition construction projects.

During the 88th Texas Legislative session, the Texas House and Senate reached a deal on a $321.2 billion two-year spending plan.

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With Texas having its largest surplus in the budget, lawmakers gave the TDCJ an additional $85.7 million in 2024, on top of the $4 billion for its regular budget.

Per the department’s release, “this funding will substantially increase the number of cool beds available.”

It goes on to state that currently 42,500 cool beds are currently available, 4,509 are under construction, and another 11,445 are currently in design.

Currently, over 100,000 people are incarcerated in TDCJ prisons. With the number of cooling beds available now, that doesn’t cover even half of the number of inmates.

In KSAT Investigates previous coverage of the temperatures inside of Texas prisons, a TDCJ spokesperson confirmed the $85.7 million will also go towards air conditioning in units that are currently without air conditioning or are just partially cooled.

In 2018, it was made a priority to add air-conditioned beds and respite areas where prisoners can get access to cooler temperatures for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

A Texas A&M University Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center report released in July 2022 found that temperatures regularly reached 110 degrees inside prisons and peaked at 149 degrees in at least one unit.

This summer, Texas Tribune reported at least nine prisoners have died since mid-June while heat indices were triple digits outside.

For years, lawmakers have proposed changing current standards to require temperature standards inside of Texas prisons, however, none have succeeded.

About the Author:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.