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4 Texas inmates die of heatstroke, wrongful death claim filed

During the summer months, Texas can reach very high temperatures. Many people seek shelter from the heat indoors in an air-conditioned environment. Some people such as inmates are actually confined indoors for most of their day, so air-conditioning would presumably be a necessary element in their lives. When the air-conditioning is not working, people may die -- as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the University of Texas Medical Branch realized when they were sued for wrongful death.

Four inmates are said to have died of heat stroke recently in Texas prison facilities. All four were in prison for nonviolent crimes. The lawsuits claim that all four men had medical conditions that made them more vulnerable to heat. Two of them were supposedly on psychotropic drugs that made dehydration a more viable threat, yet the lawsuits claim that these men were not properly taken care of.

Several Texas prison facilities were built before it was common to have air-conditioners in buildings, but some more recently built facilities refrained from installing air-conditioning units because of the cost. Prison officials uphold that all precautions are taken to ensure the safety of both inmates and staff, who coexist in the same conditions. Both parties should realize that being trapped indoors in the high Texas heat is dangerous for everyone and can easily be avoided with an air-conditioning system.

Even though inmates are in jail for breaking the law, they still have rights. The men who died were only serving non-violent sentences, but even for those serving more severe sentences, not having air-conditioning is a violation of basic human rights. If the wrongful death lawsuits are upheld, the families of the deceased men will be compensated for the pain and suffering they are currently enduring. Moreover, perhaps the prison facilities will reconsider getting air-conditioning units.

Source: The Texas Tribune, "Inmate Families Sue Over Heat-Related Prison Deaths," Elizabeth Koh, June 13, 2013

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