Piece of Thoughts: Cease Cooking Inmates

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Shortly after signing up for work on the Amarillo Globe News, I received an invitation to tour the William P. Clements division of the Texas Department of Justice.

It was an edifying experience. I’ve learned a lot about how TDCJ deals with the 3,000+ men who find it hard to commit crimes.

One of the things I learned in 1995 was that TDCJ did not provide air conditioning to the living quarters that housed these convicts. This is about to change, according to Texas law that has approved bill to pay for air conditioning in the myriad units of the massive TDCJ system.

The Texas Tribune reports, “The reality is that in Texas we cook people in prisons,” said Terry Canales, D-Edinburg MP, on the floor as he presented his bill. “That’s the right thing, it’s the human, and it’s something we should have done a long time ago.”

I don’t remember the Clements Unit assistant during my tour who expressed outward concern about the heat convicts endured while on duty. The problem occurred to me then, and I remember reminding prison officials what happens when inmates find out that they are being ill-treated.

I remembered when US District Judge William Wayne Justice found that the overcrowded terms were unconstitutional. What happened next changed the shape of the Texas prison system forever. The federal government took control of the state prison complex and forced the state to rebuild the prison to ease the crowd.

Could there have been another lawsuit in the future of TDCJ if lawmakers hadn’t acted? Hey, that’s out of the question.

Accordingly, legislation appears poised to cool the homes of hundreds of thousands of men and women in state custody. According to the Texas Tribune: Currently, 70% of the state’s nearly 100 prison facilities do not have air conditioning in living areas. Some areas, such as administration offices and medical wards, are air-conditioned in all units.

The state will have a hefty bill to pay when this legislation becomes law. In my opinion, the cost of providing air conditioning in its prison units could look like a bargain given the plethora of lawsuits the state has already paid for.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for Amarillo Globe News and Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired but is still writing. Kanelis can be contacted on Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook or on his blog www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis’ blog for KETR, “Piece of Mind”, presents its views and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its employees, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.