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Why Don’t Most Texas Prisons Provide AC to Inmates?

Texas has always taken a hands-off approach to regulating the conditions of their prisons, particularly in regards to air conditioning. All Texas prisons have heating units to combat the harsh conditions of winter, but inmates are out of luck in the summer. The lack of AC in prisons is extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous to Texas inmates, so why are prisoners still having to fight for safety from the summer heat? 

AC for Texas Inmates is A Long-Running Problem

For some states in the US, summer is a pleasant break from the usual cold weather. In Texas, the scorching summer heat can be miserable to endure, even for those who have access to air conditioning. It isn’t uncommon for summer days to exceed 100 degrees, and inmate housing can easily climb up to 105 degrees or more around this time of year. These temperatures can be unbearable and dangerous to inmates, but the Texas government still refuses to cool prisons for economic reasons. 75 of the 104 prisons in Texas still have no air conditioning, and the ones that do went through a long, difficult battle to get it. 

What Does it Cost to Cool Prisons?

The Texas government opposes mandated air conditioning in all Texas prisons for financial reasons, but how much would it actually cost to cool all 104 correctional facilities in the state? The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recently gave the project a $1 billion estimate, plus an additional $140 million per year for utilities and maintenance. These numbers are persuasive, but more than a few Texas lawmakers have raised their eyebrows at this claim.

In a lawsuit that was settled last year, the TDCJ’s original $20 million estimate for the cooling of one prison was slashed down to $4 million. The agency hasn’t been very accurate at estimating AC costs in the past, which is why some are skeptical of their most recent statement.

Why AC is Necessary for Inmates

Since 1998, at least two dozen Texas prisoners have died from exposure to the Texas heat. In the lawsuit mentioned earlier, many prisoners shared their horror stories about coping with the summer temperatures, including one man who described how he slept in a puddle of water on the floor nearly every night. In a state like Texas, it’s inhumane and dangerous to force prisoners into living in 100+ degree housing every summer. Guards from prisons without cooling say the overhead fans work so hard to cool their units that it’s nearly impossible to hear prisoners when they ask for help or cause trouble, which puts inmates at even greater risk. 

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