The sweltering Texas sunset closed on the 2021 Texas Legislative session without help for Texas inmates. Prisoners in the Texas prison system will continue to go without air condition after HB 357 fails to get a hearing in the Texas Senate.
A bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican representatives from the Dallas Fort Worth area worked hard to prove bipartisanship is not dead in Texas. This coalition fought for prison reform requiring Texas prisons to install air conditioning in all facilities.
HB 357 bill passed the Texas House by a vote of 123-18. In normal times, the bill would have moved to the Texas Senate before heading to Governor Abbott’s desk to sign it into law. Despite bipartisan support for this criminal justice effort, the Texas Senate failed to schedule the bill for a hearing, debate, or vote.
Just in time for Summer, The Texas legislative session is now over, and Texas Prisoners will pay the price. Texas lawmakers killed a bill that would have required air conditioning in prisons and saved lives.
The Dallas Morning News (DMN) reported one out of five lockup facilities has no air conditioning or climate control systems for inmates. Forty-nine prisons only have partial air conditioning. Temperatures can rise well above 100 degrees during the Texas Summers. Inmates confined to their cells no options to keep cool and stay safe.
Some view climate control as a luxury. “[Air conditioning] is seen as a luxury and prison officials don’t want to be seen as running luxurious prisons,” stated David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. But in Southern states like Texas, regulating temperature can be a matter of life and death.
The lack of air conditioning in Texas prisons places prisoners and staff at risk. Prolonged heat exposure can cause lead to dehydration and heatstroke. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can damage the kidneys, liver, lungs, and brain. Prisoners are at risk of kidney failure and heart attacks.
The DMN published documents showing more than twenty inmates died from the heat inside Texas prisons between 1998 and 2012. Terry Canales, a South Texas Democrat from Edinburg, told the House, “The reality is that we are cooking people in prison in Texas.”
HB 357 provided the Texas prison system with seven years to bring climate control systems to all facilities. The project had a cost cap of $300 million, and the bill is contingent on State or Federal funds approval to assist with cooling costs.
The bill would provide essential climate control and air conditioning to incarcerated people throughout the Texas Penal system. During the vote in House, only 18 members voted against this legislation.
The bill’s sponsors were Democrats and Republicans from the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, including Jeff Leach of Plano, Lynn Stuckey of Denton, Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody, Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, and Carl Sherman of DeSoto.
In 2021, The Texas Winter Storm caused problems in the Texas prisons that do not have climate control. Mother Jones reported Texas prisoners attempted to set fires to try and keep warm during the historic freezing subzero temperatures and failure of the power grid. Inmates used toilet paper, scrap paper, and socks as kindling.
Prison Air conditioning bills have failed over and over again in Texas. Despite being one of the hottest states in the US, lawmakers have failed to provide basic climate control systems for inmates. Many thought 2021 would be different. The bipartisan effort which passed with flying colors in the house seemed destined to succeed in the Senate.
Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody offered gratitude to the House members for their votes, reminding them, “We dehumanize people who are justice-involved.”
Sadly, The Texas Senate did not bring the bipartisan bill to the floor in the 2021 legislative session.