AUSTIN (KXAN) — At least 36 people working and living inside Texas prisons were diagnosed with heat-related illnesses during some of the hottest months this summer and last, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records obtained by KXAN.
The agency reported at least 16 incarcerated people and workers getting sick from the heat from May 1 to July 5, 2022, records show. This year, records show at least 20 people diagnosed with heat-related illnesses.
Agency officials said none of the incidents described in the reports are tied to the death of an inmate.
TDCJ answered several of our questions for this report. But has not yet agreed to our request for an interview or provided comment.
In June, one man was transported to Christus Spohn Beeville Hospital after he was found in “medical distress” in the dormitory of the Garza West Unit in Beeville. He was diagnosed with a heat-related illness, according to the report.
It was 98 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The prison is partially air-conditioned, according to TDCJ officials.
Another report described a corrections officer being found unresponsive inside a TDCJ facility. The officer was later taken to the hospital and diagnosed with “a heat-related illness above first aid.” It was 90 degrees that day and the heat index was 104 degrees, according to the report.
Another man was found in medical distress inside the general population area of the Huntsville Unit in May. It does not have air conditioning, according to TDCJ officials. That day it was 83 degrees outside.
According to the report, the man was taken to the Huntsville Memorial Hospital by EMS and was diagnosed with a heat-related illness.
The reports of people getting sick are not just related to what’s happening inside the facilities. Reports show both TDCJ staff and inmates being diagnosed with a heat-related illness while off-state property and in outdoor parts of the facility.
KXAN obtained at least seven reports describing TDCJ staff members being diagnosed with heat-related illnesses during the search for Gonzalo Lopez in Centerville last year. Lopez escaped a transport bus and was suspected of killing a family of five before law enforcement shot and killed him.
One of the reports stated one corrections officer started feeling dizzy while assisting in the Centerville search. It was 91 degrees outside.
State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, filed legislation in the last legislative session to mandate universal air conditioning in Texas’ prisons. It passed unanimously out of the House Corrections Committee, but did not receive a debate in the full House.
“We’ve got a crisis, and it’s a humanity crisis. Right now, for our animal shelters, we have to provide AC, and if the AC should go out, it must be fixed within two hours, that’s state law. These are not animals, they are people made in the image of God,” Sherman said.
TDCJ operates 100 units across Texas — most of which have either partial or no-air conditioning, according to TCDJ officials. The agency said it provides water, ice, fans and air-conditioned respite areas.
“It’s not humane for our public safety officers who risked their lives working in these conditions every day going up and down the stairs, in some cases, four stories in a metal building in the housing unit,” Sherman said.
More than 50 people have died while incarcerated in TDCJ facilities since June 1, according to prison records, the youngest being 23 years old.
TDCJ has not reported a heat-related death since 2012.