Last July, Truthdig reported on extreme heat in Texas prisons. Many of the facilities are not air-conditioned, and cells can reach 149 degrees Fahrenheit on the heat index, a measure of temperature combined with humidity. One inmate memorably described the summer months in the facility as being “baked in a concrete oven.”

Related It’s Like Being Baked in a Concrete Oven

With summer again looming, a lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is using similar language about cooking humans to death. Filed Monday by the Texas Prisons Community, it asserts that extreme heat in prison is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the Eighth amendment. “Texas prisoners are being cooked to death,” states a report linked to the lawsuit. 

The suit is being brought on behalf of Berhardt Tiede, an inmate at TDCJ Estelle Unit in Huntsville, Texas, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension. Last summer, the 65-year-old had a likely stroke inside his cell when the temperature hit 112 degrees, according to the lawsuit. Every year, an average of 14 Texas inmates die from causes associated with extreme heat. 

Among the groups backing the suit is the state’s Correctional Officers Union. “We’re not trying to make this lush, we’re trying to make it humane,” said Lancy Lowry, former head of the jail guards’ group. “These are Third World conditions. We’re supposed to run prisons, not concentration camps. The incarceration is their punishment, not cooking them to death.”

“We’re not trying to make this lush, we’re trying to make it humane.”

According to Texas Prisons Community, 70% of prisons in the state lack air-conditioning. Because heat builds up in the concrete, this leaves 85,000 inmates to bake in cells that can hit highs of 149 degrees. Fahrenheit. 

One of them is Amy Gonzales, a 52-year-old inmate at a Fort Worth facility. 

“It can get to be 110 degrees with stifling humidity — you have trouble breathing,” Gonzales tells Truthdig. “Some of the ladies lay down with ice on their bodies to cool down. Some have had heat stroke. It is hard to drink lots of the recommended water in the summertime if you are someone that suffers from heart failure or kidney failure requiring hemodialysis.” 

While Gonzales’ federal facility technically has air-conditioning, it often breaks and the authorities are in no hurry to fix it, she says. 

“You have no idea what it is like to have a basic necessity such as fresh air and a cool breeze blowing on you until you lose it.”

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