On June 18, 2014, four inmates housed in the Wallace Pack Unit, a medical and geriatric prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), brought suit individually and on behalf of those similarly situated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, ...
read more >
On June 18, 2014, four inmates housed in the Wallace Pack Unit, a medical and geriatric prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), brought suit individually and on behalf of those similarly situated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act against the TDCJ. The plaintiffs, represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, and private counsel asked that the the TDCJ be required to provide safe housing conditions at the Pack Unit, claiming that the non-climate controlled interior of the Unit violated the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and plaintiff's Eight and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the failure of the TDCJ to provide climate controlled interior spaces to inmates at the Pack Unit constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and that their failure further violates the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate prisoners with heat-sensitive disabilities. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief.
The Wallace Pack Unit, operated by the TDCJ, is located just outside Houston, TX in Navasota. Deep in the south of Texas, the Pack Unit is a medical facility housing geriatric prisoners, prisoners with disabilities, and prisoners with chronic mental problems. The Pack Unit dormitories, in which the vast majority of prisoners are housed, are not air conditioned or otherwise climate controlled. The interior of the prison in the summer regularly becomes so hot that inmates sleep on the floor, only marginally cooler than their beds, and the stainless steel tables in the dormitories become hot to the touch. Most of the prisoners at the Pack Unit who suffered heat-related illness were not working outside, but were simply housed in the hot dormitories. Even the correctional officer's union has made numerous public requests for the prison housing areas to be air conditioned. The TDCJ has thus far refused to do so.
The plaintiffs (and many others at the medical and geriatric prison) suffer from disabilities putting them at increased risk of heat-related injury or death. These disabilities known to be exacerbated by heat include hypertension, asthma, traumatic brain injury (TBI), COPD, diabetes. Plaintiffs and others also take medications known to increase the risk of heat-related illness and death, including antihistamines (for allergies), Benztropine (to treat TBI), and diuretics. Several of the plaintiffs and many of the inmates have suffered heat-related illness in the past.
After a year of discovery, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 6, 2015 and a second amended complaint on May 9, 2016. The Court granted class certification on June 14, 2016.
On June 21, 2016, the court (Judge Keith P. Ellison) granted preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs requiring the TDCJ to provide EPA-compliant drinking water to the inmates through September 22, 2016. The defendants appealed the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Oral argument was scheduled for the week of September 26, 2016.
This case is still ongoing. Kevin Nomura - 02/10/2015
Virginia Weeks - 10/17/2016