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Friday, 6 July 2012

That time of year again

While I am here, wading ankle deep through rain water on my way home today and wondering if the sun will ever show its face again to this little island I call home, Texas is baking. And I don't mean making cup-cakes.

Every year, anecdotal reports seep out of TDCJ prisons about heat-related deaths. Advocates start ranting about the lack of air conditioning in the prisons, and the tuff-on-crime crowd start ranting in return about liberal hug-a-thugs and how their granddaddy never had air conditioning back in the day and why should criminals get such a priviledge when other law-abiding citizens can't afford it, or when soldiers are out in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan in similar conditions.

It's a tough argument to find any common ground on, that's for sure.

Should bad behaviour be rewarded? Well, no. And no one is really saying that it should.

Does the state have a duty of care towards those it decides to keep incarcerated? Emphatically, yes it does. And more importantly, the law says they do too. So then we move into the game of What-is-reasonable-care? This is a very simple game, played between the TDCJ top dogs and the Supreme Courts (because Texas courts generally will agree with anything a state agency wants to do), which involves the Judges saying "you need to take reasonable care of inmates" and TDCJ saying "we do take all reasonable steps to care for inmates". And yet inmates do still die each year from heat-related conditions.

No one is really asking for every square inch of TDCJ property to be fully air conditioned to 65 degrees F. That's not at all practical, given the design of the buildings, and TDCJ would say they couldn't afford the running costs (although they do have a large pool of trainable labour to maintain any equipment, and plenty of space to set up solar and wind power harvesting technology which could actually bring energy costs to zero and may even enable TDCJ to sell some of the power it harvests... oh wait, they can't, the oil people wouldn't like it).

Inmates do have to take some responsibility for their own health during hot weather. They do need to make sure that they drink - at least 1 cup of water (not coffee) every hour - and more so when they are on lockdown because the food in the johnny sacks wont have much liquid content. But should inmates be forced to adopt the extreme measures of laying under wet sheets with a small fan blowing hot air across them just to get enough relief in order to sleep for a few hours?

And what of the guards and other staff who share the same space with the inmates, but who cannot strip down to their boxers? What is the point of an employment union if it does little to improve the working conditions of its members?

Hubby tells me not to worry. He knows how to look after himself in the heat, and doesn't care if others think less of him for making sure he drinks whenever water is available while he is working. He complains about the extremes sometimes, but then so do I when we are on our 60th day with rain of some kind (it feels like it, it could actually be more than 60 days).

I'd love better conditions for all inmates. But what I'd love even more is for TDCJ and the Texas legislature to look seriously at reforming the sentences and time spent before parole is possible - and then to see parole as an affirmative action and not something to be denied at any cost on the basis of things an inmate cannot themselves change. I'd rather we only had to do a couple more years of this long distance thing, instead of at least another 12, so that's what I'm focusing on. I have wellies, Hubby has a fan. We'll be OK.