US prisoners desperately trying to escape deadly heat

As temperatures rise, both prisoners incarcerated in chambers without air conditioning and their guards struggle. Calvin Johnson was incarcerated in a Texas state penitentiary for 37 years, during which he spent 37 summers without air conditioning.

On the innumerable days when temperatures exceeded 37.7 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), his survival depended on a combination of ingenuity and desperation to stay cool - to stay alive.

"Sometimes you can clog the toilet and let the water run," said Mr. Johnson, 67. He mentioned to place the trousers and shirt across it, and then spend some time in the water. 

Some inmates drank water from the toilet because it was a few degrees cooler than the water from the cell's sink, though Johnson never attempted it.

In the prison where Johnson was imprisoned, there were some ways to cool off, but he said they were difficult to access. He stated that there were few spectators and that ice was scarce.

The summer of 2022, the year he was released from prison, was the third warmest on record in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This week, more than 230 million Americans will experience temperatures above 32.2 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). The increasing frequency of perilously hot conditions has reignited calls for prison reform in the United States.

According to an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, thirteen states in the hottest regions of the United States, including Texas and Arizona, lack universal air conditioning in their prisons, producing lethal conditions.

31 prisons run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have air-conditioning, 55 have limited air-conditioning in certain areas. Wainwright, fourteen have no refrigeration, just like the prison where Johnson was held.

Since mid-June, at least nine inmates have died of strokes or cardiac events in uncooled Texas prisons with outside heat indices exceeding 100 degrees, according to sources.

Amanda Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stated that it is inaccurate to attribute any fatality to heat before an investigation has been concluded. Since 2012, according to the department's official statistics, there have been no fatalities due to heat.

Ms. Hernandez reported that eight detainees required medical care beyond first aid for heat-related injuries in 2023, but none of the injuries were fatal.

In an email response to sources, she stated that the department takes seriously its responsibility to protect detainees and staff.

All individuals have access to ice and water. Fans are strategically positioned within buildings to circulate air. She stated that inmates have access to both fans and air-conditioned locations for respite.

Prison advocates assert that the Texas legislature's reluctance to improve conditions stems from the state's position on crime. This year, the Texas House took steps to resolve the overheated prisons in the Lone Star State.

It passed a bill mandating that prisons be kept between 18C and 29C, as is already required for local facilities, and budgeted more than $343 million to equip the state's prisons with air conditioning.