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John Oliver Brands Heat in Texas Prisons a “Deadly Situation”

John Oliver Brands Heat in Texas Prisons a “Deadly Situation”

Inmates have fought in the courts against excess heat in Texas prisons for years. Now TV host John Oliver has raised the profile of the deadly situation facing inmates.

The Last Week Tonight host kicked off a show this month by stating that “heat in prisons is a big problem.” He said more than half of prisons lack air conditioning in some of the hottest states in the country.

Oliver singled out Texas where almost three-quarters of lock-ups lack air conditioning. 

The host pointed out nearly 40% of inmates suffer from a chronic condition that can be exacerbated by the heat and lead to heatstroke or even death, the Guardian reported.

“The only time getting murdered by the heat is acceptable is if you’ve committed the crime of being a lobster,” Oliver said.

The TV show host took on the argument made by states including Texas that the cost of air conditioning is prohibitive in jails and prisons.

Oliver said Texas once spent $7 million on a lawsuit fighting the addition of air conditioning for a single prison while the cost of installing it would have been just $4m.

Oliver highlighted the story of a man who was jailed for 11 months for cashing a bad cheque. He collapsed with a 109F body temperature. The inmate received delayed medical treatment but later died. 

“Prisoners in this country are desperately uncomfortable and sometimes dying due to the heat,” he said.

Oliver said the problem will only become worse under a global warming scenario.

In 2019, we noted how the Department of Justice published new protocols to tackle overheating in Texas prisons but warned of the high cost of installing air conditioning. 

Officials put a $1 billion price tag on the proposed fitting of air conditioning in all of its uncooled prisons. Some lawmakers have accused the department of overestimating the costs.

Lawsuits were brought after the heatwave of 2011. At least 10 inmates died of heat-related conditions in Texas prisons in just two months that year. 

The family of one of the dead inmates, 58-year-old Larry Gene McCollum, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. A lawsuit brought over the notorious Pack Unit near Navasota, which contains many disabled and older inmates, claimed 22 inmates died in Texas prisons from the heat.

We remain concerned about a range of problems in Texas prisons including excess heat, brutality, and a failure to protect inmates from COVID-19.