Dear Ombudsman's Office,
I am writing to make an official complaint about the lack of implementation of heat mitigation measures at the Eastham Administrative Segregation Unit.
I have been informed by an individual housed at this unit that heat mitigation measures including provision of ice and ice water, access to cool down showers, and access to respite areas, are NOT being implemented or made accessible on the Administrative Segregation unit at Eastham. As you probably know, these are not only necessary and lifesaving measures, but also mandated by TDCJ policy. However, from what I have been told, water is being passed out maximum three times per day and it is LUKEWARM, with NO ICE. This is contrary to policy and poses a gravely dangerous health risk. Furthermore, I am being informed that access to cool down showers is NOT being provided to those housed in Ad-Seg. Respite areas are similarly impossible to access for those in Ad-Seg, because they are confined to their cells.
When I called the Warden's office at Eastham to register my concern about this, I was informed immediately by the receptionist for the Warden's office that staff was in compliance with all department policies. I find it laughable that I am supposed to take her opinion, with no investigation into the matter whatsoever, at face value. She is administrative staff, and honestly has no idea what measures are, or are not, being implemented. When I pressed her on this point, she curtly informed me that I should take it up with the Ombudsman's office, and so that is precisely what I am doing; I can only hope that you will be more thorough in your investigation that she was! It is simply not enough to take Department staff at their word on this.
As you may be aware, indigent and mentally ill prisoners on the Eastham unit were recently provided with whirlwind fans due to the extreme heat (reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with even higher heat indexes), and Federal judges have order the installation of AC at the Pack Unit and emergency transfer of 1,000 prisoners prior to the installation, due to the health concerns and human suffering associated with extreme heat in the cells. All of these improvements came after the filing of many complaints, write-ins, call-ins, and eventually legal battles that the Department lost--not to mention, after 25 people have died of extreme heat in TDCJ custody over the years. It is absurd, cruel, and shocking that even ONE person would die of heat exposure in TDCJ custody, let alone over two dozen! I provide all of this as context, because clearly the issue I am raising in this complaint is a DEPARTMENT-WIDE ISSUE, and TDCJ will be called to account time and time again in the form of costly, time-consuming, and embarrassing litigation, unless they start following their own policies to mitigate extreme heat. That is all there is to it, and really, ice water and a place to cool down for a few minutes is not much to ask--it's hardly some extravagant luxury! It's basic human rights, dignity, and safety.
Please enter my complaint into the official record and investigate this issue as thoroughly as you can; and be proactive, because prison staff unfortunately do not seem to be capable of holding themselves accountable, so we will have to do that for them.
Thank you very much for your time and assistance in this matter. I look forward to hearing from you--and from those housed at Eastham--regarding improved conditions.
Why should you do this?
I am writing because there is a dire need for ally support right now, for people housed in the Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) unit at Eastham Prison in Texas, which is experiencing DEADLY HEAT conditions (as are many other prisons in Texas, and the greater southwest region).
What is needed is for folks to email the Ombudsman (the office in charge of investigating grievances) about this issue; it's easy, there's no official format to follow or anything, just dash off an email, shouldn't take more than 10 to 15 minutes!
I am including below the email I sent for reference, but yours need not be that detailed; all you need to include is your concern about the issue (exposure to extreme temperatures) and what you would like to see done (implement heat mitigation measures already on the books). Here is all the info you need to write your email:
- According to its own policies, TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) is supposed to offer access to ice and ice water on demand, access to "cool down" showers for people to lower their body temps, and access to "respite areas" that are air conditioned to lower their body temps
- None of the above are being made available to those housed in Ad-Seg, NOT EVEN ICE WATER!! The water is offered at maximum three times per day, and it is lukewarm, with no ice. TDCJ must immediately begin complying with its OWN POLICIES and make these heat mitigation measures available.
- Imagine being locked in a cell that reaches over 100 degreesfor 23 hours per day. This is a cruel violation of human and Constitutional rights
- Nearly 2 dozen people have died in TDCJ custody over the years due to extreme heat exposure.
- The extreme heat in Texas prison is not news by any stretch of the imagination: a federal judge just ordered the emergency transfer of 1,000 people in another unit and the installation of Air Conditioning on that unit because of gross violations of the 8th amendment against "cruel and unusual punishment." So current complaint exists within a context of greater departmental failure.