Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Yes, Punish Criminals But Giving Them Heat Stroke Is Cruel And Unusual Punishment

People being held in this St. Louis jail during a recent heat
wave yelled for help from inside the building, which
lacks air conditioning, as temperatures got up over 100 degrees.
The other day I saw a disturbing video of inmates in a St. Louis jail screaming for help as heat in the building climbed to over 100 degrees.

The "Workhouse" as the local jail is called, is largely without air conditioning, and St. Louis summers can get torrid.

This was another example of how jailers use summer heat to punish prisoners beyond what they were sentenced to, and the whole thing is terrible.

I'm all for punishing criminals and getting them off the streets, but putting them in prisons without air conditioning in places that get very hot in the summer ought to be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

In some cases, people intervened, or lawsuits were filed to force the air conditioning, but often times even these efforts don't work.

In the St. Louis instance, some help arrived. Most of the people in the Workhouse were people who were awaiting trial and had not been able to post bail, so local community organizations raised money to release some of those that had been jailed on bail, according to 

A demonstration erupted in front of the Workhouse too, as the public demanded better conditions in the building.

And finally, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson ordered that portable, industrial-size air conditioners be installed in the Workhouse.

But why did it take public pressure after years of trouble at this building?

In even hotter Texas, state prison officials have been dragging their feet and not getting air conditioning for prisons there, most of which are not cooled.

According to the Texas Tribune:

"The lack of cooling in Texas prisons has thrown both controversy and an ongoing class-action lawsuit onto the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Inmates at another Texas prison claim that heat constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and argue that prison housing should be kept at a maximum of 88 degrees."

A federal judge in Houston recently agreed, ordering air conditioning for medically-sensitive inmates at one jail near College Station.

But of course the state of Texas is appealing that ruling, because they want to seem tough on crime. Kill a few inmates with heat stroke, even if they weren't sentenced to death, and that will make everybody feel good, apparently.

Texas maintains the air conditioning would be too expensive, yet Texas has spent $2.1 million and counting defending itself against the prison heat lawsuits.

There is even a more extreme case: In Phoenix, an overcrowded jail prompted former evil sheriff Joe Arpaio to create an outdoor tent jail, forcing inmates to endure temperatures of up to 120 degrees. 

Arpaio, of course, seemed to enjoy doing this to inmates. He was finally voted out of office last year and officials pledged to remove the outdoor tent jail.

But it was still up this June, and about 380 inmates were still there as temperatures reached 120 degrees, and dropped all the way down to 90 degrees at night.

Jail officials assured us they were giving the inmates all the ice water and ice cubes they want. Oh, as if that would help in that kind of weather.

At least there's fewer inmates in that tent jail, and they're still promising to take it down.

We'll see.

I just worry that one day, we'll have a lot of heat stroke victims in jail, combined with a terrible prison riot. This all could come back to bite prison officials in Texas, Missouri and elsewhere.

Here's the video out of St. Louis:

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