Excessive Heat at Texas Jails is Linked to 10 Deaths

It’s the job of a criminal defense attorney to keep innocent defendants out of jail.

But irrespective of whether they are innocent or guilty, those who end up in jails have a right to expect humane conditions when they are incarcerated.
That’s not happening in many of Texas’ jails according to a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died, reason.com reported.

According to the KHOU TV station in Houston a number of prisoners died as temperatures soared during the heat wave of the summer of 2011. The station reports the family of Larry Gene McCollum, one of those who died, has filed a lawsuit against the Hutchins State Jail in Dallas.

The lawsuit takes aim at conditions in Texas jails. It points out only 11 out of 121 are fully air conditioned, and the rest only have air conditioning in common areas.

It claims these conditions violate the Eighth Amendment and the high heat levels constitute cruel and unusual punishment. According to the KHOU story, the heat indexes outside the prisons hit 130-150 degrees last summer.

According to reports McCollum was vulnerable because he was suffering from weight problems and hypertension. The 58 year old man was serving 11 months for forgery. His family maintains he was afraid to be transferred to Hutchins because he had heard about the awful conditions inside the jail.

Scott Medlock, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s prisoners’ rights program, is critical of conditions at the Hutchins facility. He said it is not fully air-conditioned and temperatures inside the jail last summer were almost on a par with conditions outside – reaching 96 degrees with a dangerously high heat index.

According to Medlock, McCollum’s body temperature hit 109 degrees when he arrived at a hospital. Due to the fact he had not yet received an identification card, McCollum could not purchase a cup to drink water or a fan.

After just three days at the state jail, McCollum collapsed on July 22, 2011. At the hospital his temperature peaked at 109.4 degrees. He fell into a coma and died six days later of hyperthermia.

The Dallas Observer reported that 10 inmates died from heat related conditions at Texas jails in the space of 30 days last summer.

The heat is not the only threat to inmates at Texas jails. Three wrongful death lawsuits have been brought over deaths at Dallas County Jail in recent years, claiming guards used excessive force to restrain inmates.

Jails, by their very nature are places of last resort. But that does not mean they should be the last places inmates see.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.