Lawsuits brought over dangerous conditions at jails and prisons in Texas are nothing new. However, the coronavirus epidemic threatens added dangers to inmates who claim they are being unnecessarily exposed to illness.
Two older inmates at the notorious Pack Unit, the Wallace Pack prison, near Houston have sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. They claim the prison failed to implement measures required to protect inmates from the coronavirus (COVID-19), the pandemic sweeping the world.
The lawsuit calls on the prison authorities to implement safety measures to protect inmates from the potentially-deadly virus, the Texas Tribune reported.
The complaint states that notwithstanding the “ticking time bomb” that the epidemic represents, the TDCJ failed to take the necessary action and has even failed to implement many of its own policies.
The inmates asked U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison to provide all prisoners in the Pack Unit with access to disposable towels, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and adequate supplies for hourly cleanings of surfaces such as phones and door handles that can harbor the coronavirus.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease the new coronavirus causes, has killed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Texas reported 2,877 cases and 38 deaths from the coronavirus on March 30.
Poor hygiene and overcrowding in prisons are seen as an incubator for the disease. Some states have released non-violent inmates.
The federal government has also acted. U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in March that he was instructing the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement for eligible federal prisoners. He said:
“Many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care. But for some eligible inmates, home confinement might be more effective in protecting their health.”
In Texas, at least two prisoners and seven employees at TDCJ have tested positive for the virus at lockups.
The Tribune reported the TDCJ has implemented a new infectious disease control policy that focuses on education and disinfecting prison areas. The Pack Unit inmates say it doesn’t go far enough.
Prisoners at the Pack Unit previously brought lawsuits over overheating at the facility. In 2014, a group of inmates sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice citing the lack of air conditioning. The lawsuit said two dozen prisoners died from heatstroke over last the two decades and temperatures at the unit which regularly reached 100 degrees and higher.
Four years later, Judge Ellison finalized a settlement proposal that included fitting air conditioning at the Pack Unit at College Station.
The grim conditions at Texas’ prisons are a threat to the health of inmates, especially during the coronavirus epidemic. If you or a family member has been accused of a crime, talk to an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney about a strategy to avoid prison time if possible. Our attorneys also work on appeals to get inmates out of jail. Call us at (214) 720-9552.