HELP TEXAS PRISONERS SURVIVE THE HEAT
Mary Lou James, the mother of Kenneth Wayne James, 52, who was found in his cell with a body temperature of 108 degrees.
TEXAS CURE FAN PROGRAM
To prisoners within the Texas Department of Corrections owning, or not owning, a fan can mean the difference between life or death. In 2011 eleven prisoners died from heat related causes. In June of 2012 Scott Medlock and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the prison system on behalf of the family of Larry Gene McCollum, who died of a heatstroke at the Hutchins State Jail. What began as a one year jail sentence became the death penalty. When McCollum entered the jail, Medlock said, officers welcomed him with the phrase "Welcome to hell," an ominous metaphor that proved to become a virtual truth.
There are thousands of Texas prisoners who have no money in their Trust Fund accounts. These inmates are referred to as "Indigents." Prisoners who do have money are allowed to go to the commissary once per week and purchase toiletries, foodstuffs, ice cream and soda pop, etc. Indigents never enjoy a bite of ice cream or a sip of soda pop, unless a buddy with funds shares with them. Prisoners with funds may also buy electric fans.
Because of the murderously hot Texas summers, fans are one of the most prized possessions a prisoner can own. At most of the 107 prison units it is common for summer temperatures to reach 102-105 degrees, causing inside temperatures to soar to as high as 130 degrees. Citizens only hear of the heat problem when prisoners die from heat-related causes, but CURE members who correspond with prisoners on a regular basis hear the "rest of the story."
Even prisoners who have fans do not always find respite from the relentless heat. One prisoner wrote, "When I return to the dorm after work and turn on my fan, it's so hot it's like sitting in front of a hairdryer." Those who suffer the most are prisoners with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. A diabetic prisoner wrote, "When I go to bed at night I feel like a chicken roasting in an oven:I fall to seep sweating and wake up drenched. I'm so weak it's all I can do to get up and pee."
It's always heartwarming to hear from indigent inmates who have just received their free Texas CURE fans.
"Man, I can't begin to tell ya'll how good it feels to have this new fan! I haven't felt this happy since I received my first bicycle for xmas when I was 9 years old. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"Just a quick note to share with you guys what I just saw. Ol' man Johnson, the guy I helped put in his request for a CURE fan, just came back from the store [commissary] with his new fan. You should have seen the smile on his face! When he got to his cubicle [dormitory space where prisoners are housed] he lifted the fan over his head for all to see and turned in a full circle, as if to say, "Hey, ya'll, look what I got!" I'm 46 years old, and sort of hate to confess this, but the scene brought tears to my eyes."
You can help bring joy to an indigent prisoner by donating $20.00, the price of a fan, to the Texas CURE Fan Program today. Money donated on this page is used only for fans. Texas CURE is a 501 (C3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible. Since our inception we have purchased 6000 fans for indigent Texas prisoners, 570 last year. Our goal for 2013 is 1000 fans. Please help.
Michael W. Jewell
Just writing this small missive to thank you for the fan I received this month. God Bless All of you in this project for caring enough to answer my request. I will pray to our Lord that He may continue to Bless all of you and the people who made the donations to make this possible for me. Thank you and God Bless you!!"
Javier Ybarra #770757
810 FM 2821
Huntsville, TX 77349
"My name is James Thompson and I am in the Stiles unit and have just received my fan and I would like to thank all who are involved in the project, your work is so important to the lives of so many of us who are imprisoned in these so called steel and brick ovens. I don't think I could have survived without it. I am diabetic and as I am getting older I can not take the heat as when I was younger, so I ask God to bless all of you for this great thing you have done, and pray someone will always be there for those of us who are in need. Please let me thank you again from my heart for all you do. God bless you." James Thompson, # 1897230, Stiles Unit, 3060 FM 3514, Beaumont, TX 77705
Subject: Reckless Indifference: Extreme Heat in Texas Prisons
Date: April 2, 2015 at 11:17:49 AM CDT
Cc: "Dulitzky, Ariel E" <ADulitzky@law.utexas.edu>
We are happy to announce that the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law has just published a follow up report, Reckless Indifference: Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons. The Report is based on the Clinic’s continued work addressing the deadly heat in Texas prisons and on several on site interviews with inmates in different TDCJ units.
The heat in Texas prisons is so severe that at least 14 inmates have died since 2007 in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities, despite the fact that the TDCJ has been aware of the problem for years. Whether through litigation, letters from legislators, pleas from inmates and their families, or the previous report that the Clinic published last April, the TDCJ has been continuously reminded that the heat in its prisons is killing people.
While the Texas Commission of Jail Standards (which administers county jails) has regulations about temperature range, the TDCJ has no such standards. This means that during the summer, temperatures inside the living areas in TDCJ facilities regularly exceed 100 °F, and the Clinic has found daily temperature log sheets that indicate that the heat index (which factors in humidity and represents what the temperature feels like) has reached 149 °F.
Courts have found that similar conditions constitute a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. There are currently several pending lawsuits against the TDCJ to address the issue. The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) has also expressed serious concern about the heat in Texas prisons. In addition to the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) shared the same concern, and as CAT requested that the TDCJ investigate the deaths of inmates in its facilities.
There are several recommendations that the Clinic makes in the new report to address the issue. They range from immediate remedial measures as well as long-term systemic changes. The most urgent is to provide inmates with ice and cool water and to allow them to take as many showers as needed to lower their body temperature. They should also place inmates who, for a variety of reasons are more susceptible to heat related injuries such as heat stroke, into separate areas that are cooled. The TDCJ should also screen and monitor all inmates to assess their susceptibility for heat related injury. There should be an official permitted temperature range of 65 °F to 85 °F, and in order to achieve this air conditioning should be installed in all facilities. Finally, the TDCJ should change its grievance procedures—which inmates insist is not designed to actually provide any relief—so that legitimate complaints can be investigated and addressed. The Clinic calls on the Texas legislature to adopt immediate measures to address the deadly heat in its prisons.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any further information on this issue.
Human Rights Clinic
The University of Texas at Austin, School of Law
727 E. Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
Office: (512) 232-1256
After working in the TDCJ facilities as a nurse there is one inaccuracy I would like to point out. They state that they supply ice but I must say that that was not true in the facilities that I worked at. Ice is considered to be a privilege. If I wanted to give an inmate a cup of ice to help cool down I was repeatedly told that I was not allowed to do this. Working there and seeing the suffering by these inmates and officers who work in this dangerous heat is sad as a care provider. And yes the staff suffers as well. I treated many from heat exhaustion. What is wrong with the morals of those that run the state of Texas and TDCJ? Something truly needs to be done about this awful situation
sending in $20.00 postal money order in the morning. Coming from a inmate at Ramsey Unit, Paying It Forward!
This is a very good thing you're doing.