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A judge out of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an order to the state's prisons to cool down the institutions to 88 degrees. Quoting the great Russian social fiction author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Judge Keith Ellison explained: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
Entering a Texas prison, especially during the Summer, might not be much different than entering a sauna. Temperatures, in the areas that do not have air conditioning, regularly soar over 100 degrees. For the inmates that have to suffer through the sweltering heat, the available relief is insufficient. To fight the department that has, for decades, refused to get the inmates out of the heat, a lawsuit had to be filed.
Cool It Texas
Prior to this order, Texas state prisons had a respite policy to deal with the heat. Essentially, if an inmate felt that the heat was getting to them, they could request to go sit in an air conditioned area of the prison until they cooled off. Nearly every prison has air conditioning in some part of it, even if the inmates' housing area never gets wind of it.
However, the respite policy was, obviously, lacking. Naturally, monitoring inmates in respite creates a staff burden. Additionally, respite areas fill up quickly, meaning many inmates are not able to cool down when needed. Also, respite areas are insufficient to protect the elderly, infirm and sick, who may be extra sensitive to the heat.
Cruel and Unusual
Under the Eighth Amendment, individuals are protected from cruel and unusual punishment. Although "rotting in jail" may be a popular expression, refusing to keep prisons at a reasonable temperature is incredibly callous and likely a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
To make matters worse for the Texas state prisons, the county jails are required by the state's own regulations to keep temperatures between 65 and 85. While there is no requirement that prisons be air conditioned, or comfortable, the constitution guarentees the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.