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2011 summer heat wave results in ten Texas prisoner deaths

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There is no question that Texas is tough on crime. Laws can be harsh and penalties severe for crime allegations ranging from misdemeanors to a felony. This is why adequate criminal defense is so important for anyone accused of a crime in the state of Texas. The criminal defense process does not stop even once an individual is convicted and placed in prison. In addition to the opportunity to appeal a conviction, Texas prisoners must be protected from not only an incorrect conviction, but also improper treatment while imprisoned.

The Texas Civil Rights Project would certainly agree with that statement. The project is suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the injury and even death of a number of Texas prisoners who suffered during a heat wave in Texas prisons last summer.

Texas prisons can be hot. According to a news report, of the 111 state prisons, only 21 are air conditioned. Some may believe the point of prison is to punish those convicted of crimes rather than to rehabilitate and deter. However, there are constitutional provisions that draw a line between what may be reasonable punishment and what is cruel and unusual punishment. The Texas Civil Rights Project tends to believe that the sweltering heat experienced by some Texas prisoners in last summer's heat wave was in fact in violation of the constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

In fact, 10 prisoners died during last summer's 26-day heat wave. Unfortunately, a wrongful death claim made on behalf of one deceased Texas prisoner was thrown out in a lower court. However, the Fifth Circuit recently revived the case.

The civil rights project is not requesting Texas prisons to install air conditioning in all cells. But, it does ask the state to be reasonable and offer some air conditioned relief during such severe heat waves in order to avoid severe suffering and death. It seems to be a reasonable request. We will soon know whether the Texas court agrees.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Texas Prisons are Too Hot," August 28, 2012

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