Texas prisons feel the heat as summer takes hold

HOUSTON Mon Jun 23, 2014 5:28pm EDT

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texas prisons bought hundreds of fans before the start of summer but the move was not related to a civil rights lawsuit accusing the country's most populous prison system of housing inmates in dangerously hot indoor areas, a prison spokesman said on Monday.

Scott Medlock, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, said there was a link, adding the prison system has faced similar lawsuits before. "It is ridiculous to say that the litigation has nothing to do with this," he said.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice in April purchased about 700 fans and 28 Cool-Space evaporative fan units that were installed in May in facilities as part of the agency'sĀ annual preparation for the summer months, the department said.

"The well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat," Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said.

The department added that although a detailed cost analysis has not been done, retrofitting facilities with air conditioning would be extremely expensive. It said medical, psychiatric and geriatric units are air conditioned.

Last week, a class action complaint was filed in a federal court in Houston. It alleges that "since 2011, at least twelve prisoners have died from heat stroke because of the sweltering temperatures inside buildings where the Texas Department of Criminal Justice houses inmates."

It calls on Texas to alleviate conditions in some of its prisons where temperatures routinely top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in inmate housing areas, saying this threatens the health and welfare of inmates, especially the elderly, sick and disabled.

Prison officials have said they do not comment on pending lawsuits.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jim Loney)