Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Prison inmates sue Texas over conditions

I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who don't give two damns whether or not the state provides air conditioning for its inmates in state prison.

But they should.

Our entire prison system was born of the idea that the best way to "cure" a person of criminal intent was to take them out of the environment that bred that intent and educate them in the honest ways of the world. So we built penitentiaries out in the middle of nowhere.

Then somewhere down the line the idea came about that prisons should be about punishment, not rehabilitation. So we made life harder for inmates and stripped them of their dignity all in the name of that Old Testament trope "an eye for an eye" or some bullshit like that.

Then we decided that society was best served when we just plain eliminated folks from society who had shown a penchant for misbehaving (I know I am painting a very broad stroke). We decided it was better to just lock 'em up and throw away the key since neither of the first two schools of thought seemed to be working.

Not coincidentally, this movement toward removing folks from society sprung up as the courts decided that the Constitution applied equally to black folks as well as white folk. Prisons took their place as one of our preferred modes of oppression. The move over the last two decades toward mass incarceration is nothing but a tool of social control. That is Bill Clinton's true legacy.

And that brings us back to Texas where a group of inmates has filed suit against the state alleging that the conditions in Texas prisons amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically the lawsuit focuses on the lack of air conditioning in Texas prisons.

Now we could debate all day long on sentencing and parole and prison conditions, but I would hope that we could all agree that forcing folks to live in cramped quarters in the Texas heat without air conditioning is beyond cruel.

"All of the people that tend to die are the sickest and the most fragile among the inmates. What makes what's going on reprehensible is that the department knows this. We're asking the court to force the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reduce the temperatures to a safe and livable amount." -- Jeff Edwards, lead counsel

Sure, there are people around Texas who don't have air conditioning - but that doesn't matter when it comes to how the state treats those entrusted to its care. Food, health care and sanitary conditions in prison are already deplorable around the state. Why don't we remove the potential deadly consequences of heat stroke from the sentences of those behind bars?

Let us not forget that those are people behind bars. They are men and women with families and friends. We can't continue to treat them as nothing but a number.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Maybe TX will do something about it when it poses a danger to the staff in the same facilities but the staff at least get a paycheck & the opportunity to go home....so maybe they aren't the exact same shoes.

I recently read how in Louisiana that those in power have spent more on attorneys to litigate the same suit than had they just installed air conditioning in the first place. I wonder why when served with the suit in LA of they did not bother to calculate the cost of ligitation or installation ahead of time to make a better cost effective decision?