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Republicans' Complicity In Cooking Prisoners To Death In TDCJ
Prison conditions for most inmates in Texas are cruel and unconstitutional. The battle for basic human dignity has been met by the GOP with indifference.
This month alone, nine incarcerated people have died in heart attacks or unknown causes in prisons lacking air conditioning, including two men in their 30s. While the TDCJ refused to label these deaths as “heat-related,” these men are often locked away inside metal and concrete prisons that reach heat indexes of 150°.
This has been going on for a long time. Over the last few decades, dozens, if not hundreds, of TDCJ inmates have died due to heat-related deaths.
Below is a short (20-minute) documentary made by the Marshall Project, a criminal justice watchdog, back in 2017. It’s eye-opening and well worth the watch. It discusses the issue of extreme heat in prisons, particularly in Texas, where many prisons lack air conditioning. And it highlights cases where inmates have suffered heat-related illnesses and died due to improper cooling measures.
Lawsuits have been filed against Texas for inhumane conditions and wrongful deaths related to extreme heat in prisons. Experts argue that fans and other measures are insufficient to combat the heat, and air conditioning is the most effective solution.
The state has long been aware of these inhuman conditions in TDCJ prisons.
Not only are these conditions in Texas prisons inhumane, but they are also unconstitutional as it violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The state’s awareness of these conditions underscores the complicity in this ongoing violation of fundamental human rights and constitutional principles.
So, if the state has known about this for years, why haven’t they done anything about it? Some legislators have tried to fix the situation, only to have their measures blocked by Republicans.
The history of the legislature’s battle over air conditioning in Texas prisons:
HB 1708 passed the House on a 124-24 vote. Here are the Republicans who voted to continue to cook people alive in TDCJ prisons: Keith Bell, Briscoe Cain, Giovani Capriglione, Travis Clardy, David Cook, Jay Dean, Mano DeAyala, Mark Dorazio, Cody Harris, Brian Harrison, Cole Hefner, Carrie Isaac, Jon Kuempel, Wil Metcalf, Candy Noble, Tom Oliverson, Matt Schaefer, Nate Schatzline, Mike Schofield, Shelby Slawson, David Spiller, Carl Tepper, Tony Tinderholt, and Terry Welson.
After the bill passed the House, it was sent to the Senate, and the Senate Finance Committee, where it was killed by Senator Joan Huffman (R).
HB 1971 passed the House on a 123-18 vote. Here are the Republicans who are still in office and want to continue the inhumane treatment of prisoners: Cecil Bell, Briscoe Cain, Tom Craddick, Jay Dean, Cody Harris, Cole Hefner, Justin Holland, Brooks Landgraf, Wil Metcalf, Tom Oliverson, Dennis Paul, Matt Schaefer, Matt Shaheen, Regee Smith, David Spiller, Valoree Swanson, and Tony Tinderholt.
Although the bill did pass the House, it was once again killed by Senator Joan Huffman (R) in the Senate Finance Committee.
HB 936 passed the committee but was killed in the Calendars Committee by Rep. Four Price (R).
Terry Canales has championed this human rights measure for years.
Many wouldn’t know these cruel conditions in Texas prisons if it weren't for Representative Canales.
Some on social media have expressed indifference to Texas prisoners being cooked alive, saying things like, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Others have expressed complete unconcern, saying, “I don’t care about murderers and rapers dying in prison.”
Only 13.3% of TDCJ inmates are incarcerated for homicide and 17.9% for sex-related crimes. The rest are in prison for drug-related crimes, property crimes, or other things like DWIs or weapons possession. Regardless, there is no crime that anyone could commit that should warrant being cooked to death.
A cruel and unusual punishment is a punishment that causes suffering and pain.
Two-thirds of Texas prisons do not have air conditioning, and four out of every five inmates are housed in those prisons. TDCJ houses over 145,000 prisoners. That means that 116,000 are at risk of being cooked to death.
Despite differing opinions or prejudices, subjecting individuals to such extreme and dangerous conditions remains fundamentally immoral and unjust. The principle of human dignity demands that all individuals, regardless of their actions, be treated with respect and protected from unnecessary harm.
Dismissing the suffering of prisoners based on their crimes perpetuates a cycle of dehumanization and undermines the principles of justice and compassion that should guide our society. It is essential to foster empathy and understanding, recognizing that no crime justifies subjecting individuals to cruel and unusual punishment, such as exposure to life-threatening heat indexes in prisons.
Senator Joan Huffman killed legislation to remedy this in the last two sessions.
The repeated blocking of legislation that addresses the dire conditions in Texas prisons raises questions about the motivations and priorities of Huffman. Her actions, or lack thereof, seemingly indicate a disregard for the well-being and rights of inmates and, in some cases, even suggest a desire to maintain the status quo of inhumane treatment.
By consistently preventing measures that would bring relief and ensure basic human dignity for incarcerated individuals, Huffman's actions perpetuate a system that violates constitutional principles and disregards the value of human life.
This is only one of the dozens of reasons she should be voted out, along with the other sadistic Republicans who voted against these bills. These Republicans are complicit in the brutal deaths of countless inmates. They don’t lack awareness. They lack empathy.
We outnumber Conservatives in Texas, and the only way to fix our state is to show up to the polls in numbers we haven’t seen before and vote them out.