Giving Compass' Take:
- A study from the academic journal JAMA Network Open found that prisoners in Texas died due to insufficient air conditioning during extreme heat waves.
- How can donors work with Texas policymakers to fund air conditioning? What other ways can donors help fill gaps in prisons?
- Learn more about building resilience to extreme heat and heat waves.
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In the dozens of Texas prisons that don’t have air conditioning, new research shows that 13 percent of deaths during the six hottest months every year from 2001 through 2019 were likely due to extreme heat. The study, which was published last week in the academic journal JAMA Network Open, is the first epidemiological evidence that the lack of air conditioning in a large proportion of U.S. prisons is substantially increasing the risk of death for those incarcerated. It also suggests that over 250 Texans lost their lives over the past two decades because of the state’s failure to mitigate indoor heat.
In Texas, where two-thirds of the state’s nearly 100 prisons lack air conditioning, temperatures inside facilities have risen to as high as 149 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change will only increase the number of dangerously hot days: Historically no Texas county typically saw more than 25 days annually where the heat index rose above 105 degrees F. By midcentury, however, more than a third of counties in the Lone Star State will likely be subject to more than 50 days with heat that high, according to data from the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.
Nevertheless, Texas lawmakers have repeatedly failed to advance bills that would fund prison air conditioning, and prison officials have suggested that heat deaths are not a problem. At a July hearing before the Texas House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee, Texas Department of Criminal Justice executive director Bryan Collier claimed that that there have been zero heat-related deaths since 2012.
“Their numbers are wrong,” said Amite Dominick, one of the new report’s coauthors and the president and founder of Texas Prisons Community Advocates, an organization that is pushing Texas policymakers to fund prison air conditioning.
Read the full article about deaths in heatwave by Alleen Brown at Grist.