Prisoners are defecating in paper bags and overflowing toilets, there aren’t enough extra blankets to go around, and mess hall kitchens are churning out half-rations of unidentifiable cold food.
As a once-in-a-generation snowstorm walloped the Lone Star State this week and led to widespread power outages, prisoners and corrections officers agree: Already-dire conditions inside Texas prisons somehow got even worse.
Officials said 33 prisons lost power and 20 had water shortages after the state’s electrical grid failed for several days during single-digit temperatures. Though the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said generators kept electricity on, staff, prisoners and their families reported frigid—and increasingly horrific—conditions around the system.
“The heaters aren’t working, there’s no showers, everybody’s locked in the cell,” said one prisoner, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. Between buildings, he added, “They’re dumping table salt on the ice to thaw it out, trying to make the walkways passable.”
Unlike people in the free world, prisoners have almost no options to stay warm if there isn’t heat. They can’t go to cars, hotels or warming centers; they can’t huddle together; and they can’t necessarily get more blankets or layers. Even though the prison system’s spokesman said staff distributed extra blankets and jackets to everyone, current and former staff at several units said that wasn’t possible because there weren’t enough to go around.
Advocates for prisoners say these problems have been years in the making.
“The Texas prison system is in that category of infrastructure that the Legislature doesn’t give a flip about,” said Jennifer Erschabek, director of the nonprofit Texas Inmate Families Association. “It’s just punishing these people on all sides: COVID, heat, cold, food, understaffing, broken prisons.”
Read the full article about prisons during Texas’ energy crisis by Keri Blakinger at The Marshall Project.
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