The Texas prison system is paying $750,000 for six climate-controlled barns for use in its pig farming program. At the same time, the system faces lawsuits, criticism and complaints by inmates and guards about extreme heat.
The state's prison system uses inmate labor to raise pigs for prison consumption. The pig barns feature large fans with misters and exhaust fans to guarantee constant air movement, reducing the temperature by as much as 20 degrees in hot weather, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The barns also have air preheating elements to ensure the pigs stay warm during the winter.
Bryan Collie, the deputy director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the barns don't have "air conditioning ... it's a climate-controlled environment." He added that the barns "are consistent with the industry standard for swine operations."
But in the past six years, at least 14 inmate deaths have been blamed on extreme heat -- averaging 120 degrees during the summer in some areas inside prisons. Almost none of the inmate living areas have air conditioning.
Collier called the comparing the overheated conditions inside the prisons and the climate-controlled conditions for the hogs "ridiculous and outrageous."
Scott Medlock, an Austin civil rights attorney who is suing the prison system over several heat-related deaths, and Lance Lowry, president of a Huntsville local of a union that represents correctional officers, disagreed.
"TDCJ has literally made the decision that protecting its bacon is more important than protecting human lives," Medlock said.
The latest news from around North Texas.
Lowry called for the state's prison to get the same climate control systems as the pig barns.
"Right now, there's just fans blowing around very hot air -- if there's fans at all," he said. "It's incredibly hot and dangerous, especially when you consider the officers and inmates who are on heat-sensitive medication."
Collier explained misters and fans are nothing new for the state's prison pigs, as the earlier swine facilities also had them.
At least five lawsuits have been filed against Texas prison officials over heat in the lockups, including one involving the August 2012 death of Rodney Adams at the Gurney Unit near Palestine in East Texas. Adams was in prison for drunken-driving offenses and was being administered medication that made him more sensitive to heat, Medlock said, and his body temperature was 109.9 degrees when he was found.