Texas prison ordered to lower hot temperatures inside

A federal judge has ordered prison officials at the" Pack Unit" in Navasota to lower the temperature immediately.

That's after an Austin attorney brought the case to district court. “The idea that we're debating whether we should cool down housing areas in 2017 borders on the absurd,” said Jeff Edwards, attorney.

Sweltering heat, that's what U.S District Judge-Southern District of Texas  Keith Ellison says prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota are dealing with on a daily basis.

The geriatric prison is home to more than 1,400 elderly inmates.

Jeff Edwards out of Austin, represents six of them, and filed a class action lawsuit in 2014.

“To subject these men to temperatures 90, 95, 100, 105 degrees on a regular and repeated basis, injures them every day, especially the people with chronic medical conditions,” said Edwards.

On Wednesday, Judge Ellison issued a preliminary injunction, ordering prison officials to lower the temperature inside the prison and provide safer conditions in two weeks. This is the second injunction for the pack unit.

Last summer, the court found the drinking water had over the amount of arsenic permitted by the EPA.

This second injunction comes after Judge Ellison himself visited the prison, walked the hallways and listened to testimony over the course of nine days. “No one would choose to live in these temperatures, but the TDCJ and its senior leadership are purposely and intentionally doing exactly that,” said Edwards.

In his findings, Ellison says the administration offices are air conditioned but  not the dorms.

Edwards says fixing this is in the public interest, not just the prison population. “As the prison population gets older, the prison population gets sicker. When they get sicker, the heat causes all the chronic medical conditions to worsen. As the conditions worsen so will the expense to the state,” said Edwards.

FOX 7 reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who runs the Pack Unit. “We are reviewing our options at this time. In the interim, the agency will be appealing the decision to the 5th circuit court of appeals. We will have no further comment.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton scolded the ruling saying in part:

"Texas taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to pay for expensive prison air conditioning systems, which are unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated. We'll appeal the decision and are confident that TDCJ is already doing what is constitutionally required......"

Edwards says he hopes this injunction's message can resonate across the prisons of Texas, not just the Pack Unit. “When the state takes away your liberty, you have certain rights. You have the right to access medical care, you have the right to access a library, and you certainly have the right to live in safe humane temperatures."

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