Inmates Are Being 'Cooked Alive' In Texas Prisons — 'This Is Not A Political Issue, This Is A Humanity Issue'

Inmates dying from heat waves is just one small part of the dehumanization of prisoners in America.

inmate in a prison Peppinuzzo / Shutterstock

The condition of American prisons are truly horrific. As reported by the Equal Justice Initiative, “Millions of Americans are incarcerated in overcrowded, violent, and inhumane jails and prisons that do not provide treatment, education, or rehabilitation.”

Since the 1990s when the prison population increased significantly, lawmakers have made it increasingly harder for inmates to win civil rights lawsuits or even receive basic medical care.


In 2023, inmates are still being treated as less than human as heat waves throughout the state continue to take the lives of prisoners.

Texans are fed up with this and are beginning to protest. Dozens of prisoners' relatives and former prison inmates gathered at the Texas state Capitol to protest about the dehumanizing treatment of prison inmates. A sweltering heat wave has enveloped Texas and uncooled prisons have “killed prisoners, sickened guards and cost the state millions of taxpayer dollars in wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits.”

According to the Texas state climatologist, a long period of high heat between mid-June and mid-July has “made this summer one of the most intense in terms of extended high temperatures.” Because of the seemingly unrelenting heatwave, prison rights advocates and several lawmakers demanded that Governor Greg Abbott call an immediate “special legislative session to cool prisons.”


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In May, the Texas Senate scratched the House proposal to spend taxpayer dollars to install air conditioning in prisons, but have decided to try to push the issue again. “This is not a political issue. This is a humanity issue. This is about survival,” said State Representative Carl Sherman.

Governor Greg Abbott’s office has declined to comment on questions regarding the possibility of the special session.


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Texas inmates have been dying from the heat since mid-June.

A study shows that up to 13% of deaths in Texas prisons can be attributed to heat, although there hasn’t been a death reported to be caused by heat since 2012. Since mid-June, there have been numerous deaths involving heat.

According to a Texas Tribune analysis, at least 14 deaths have occurred since mid-June among inmates because of uncooled prisons. Yet, Governor Abbott still refuses to help.

Citizens set up a “wonder box” outside of the state Capitol during their protest. The “wonder box” is a mock prison cell, where the temperature inside exceeds 100 degrees. Citizens encouraged people to step inside to see for themselves what the inmates have to deal with inside the prisons.


State Representative John Rosenthal went inside the box for just seven minutes and had this to say about the experience: “Once you stand in somebody else’s shoes, it’s harder to turn your back on them and say, ‘Oh yeah, that doesn’t affect me, it’s not that big of a deal.’ Try it for yourself.”

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In another clip, Tona Southards, a mother who went before the press to speak out against Texas prisons, explained that her son, 36-year-old Jon Anthony Southards, was found unresponsive in his cell back in June.


The outside temperature was 116 degrees on the day he died, so Southards suspects the heat was what ultimately killed her son. She called for “desperate change” to happen regarding the conditions the inmates have to endure. “They’re cooking our babies alive,” she exclaimed.

Kristie Williams, whose brother also died in prison, spoke up. She said that elected officials are responsible for ensuring that the living conditions in the prisons need to be “above that of an animal shelter for these inmates.”

There are 14 Texas prison units without air conditioning and 50 with limited climate control, according to the Prison Reform Group. They were told by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that there are “hot weather protocols” in place, but inmate advocates claim that this isn’t enough to prevent heat-related incidents.

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Inmates are treated inhumanely and dehumanized in American prisons, not just in Texas.

In an article posted on the Guardian, 2 out of 3 prisoners are forced to work while imprisoned. “The 13th amendment of the US constitution abolished slavery or involuntary servitude, but included an exception for prisoners; critics have called prison work modern-day slavery.”

Inmate Susan Dokken told the Guardian that prisoners are forced to work despite having medical conditions and needing medical treatment. She had a stroke and was ordered by her doctor not to work and could not talk for a year, but she was still forced to work.

Another inmate, Sarah Corely, explained that it is difficult working in prison when “basic necessities” sold through the prison are so expensive to purchase, and prisoners are not given an adequate amount of food or basic hygiene products.

The Guardian also reported that “prison workers are also excluded from basic worker protections under federal and state laws, from workers’ rights in regards to safety protection, union rights, or basic wage laws.”


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Other than being uncooled as previously discussed, inmates have to deal with other horrendous living conditions.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, inmates are experiencing escalated violence despite the Constitution requiring prison and jail officials to protect inmates from physical harm and sexual assault. Alabama prisons are the worst offenders of this.

The U.S. Department of Justice discovered in a statewide investigation that Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of people in its prisons because homicide and sexual abuse are common, weapons and drugs are easily accessible, and inmates are even tied up for days without the guards noticing.


In addition to this, corruption and abuse of power among the correction staff “runs rampant” because they aren’t being held accountable for failing to protect the inmates.

In the same investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, Alabama corrections staff has been “well aware” of the unconstitutional behavior and abuse towards the inmates, but have chosen to look the other way.

It is extremely horrific that in 2023 inmates are being dehumanized, stripped of their Constitutional rights, and not given proper living conditions. They are people and deserve to be treated as such.

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Tarah Hickel is a Washington-based writer and is a frequent contributor to YourTango. She focuses on entertainment and news stories including viral topics and current events.