St. Mary's Law Journal


The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s lack of air conditioning in offender housing areas is a violation of the Eighth Amendment and deprives offenders of humane living conditions. Unlike most Texans, offenders housed in the TDCJ are unable to adequately protect themselves from the higher, prolonged summer temperatures. Most Texas prisons do not provide air conditioning or other types of cooling systems in offender housing areas, so offenders are at the mercy of the elements with little protection against heat-related illnesses. Several jurisdictions, other than Texas, have recognized extreme temperatures in housing areas can lead to constitutional violations because the Eighth Amendment protects offenders from inhumane living conditions.

While the TDCJ has implemented mitigating measures in an attempt to help keep offenders cool during summer months, these mitigating measures fall short and still place offenders at risk of heat-related illnesses or death. The Southern District of Texas recognized some prison units in the TDCJ disregard the serious risk to offender health and safety because of excessively high temperatures in offender housing areas and the lack of adequate mitigating measures to alleviate the heat. In response, the TDCJ has started adding a limited number of air-conditioned beds into the system for offenders who are at a higher risk of heat-related illness. Only adding a limited number of air-conditioned beds still leaves a large portion of the offender population unprotected. The only way the TDCJ can prevent additional heat-related litigation and safeguard against offenders’ Constitutional rights is to provide air conditioning or other cooling systems in offender housing areas.

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St. Mary's University School of Law


William Todd Keller, Jr.