There's something about the thought of air conditioning prisons that rankles Texas officials. Partly, it's the cost: Cooling the 90 (out of 111) state-run prisons that lack any sort of climate control would run well into the millions. Partly, it's a tough-on-crime thing: These are convicted criminals; nothing wrong with making them sweat it out.
In any case, the perennial call to air condition prisons, if only to keep prisoners from dying and avoid wrongful death lawsuits, has been roundly ignored. The bellows of the pigs kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, meanwhile, have not.
On Thursday, the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast was intrigued by a brief on porknetwork.com detailing the TDCJ's purchase of six climate-controlled "swine buildings" for $750,000.
That post was quickly seized upon by the Texas Civil Rights Project, which noted the absurdity of the situation, and provided a list of the 14 Texas prisoners who have recently died from the heat, in a press release.
"It is outrageous that TDCJ would prioritize the safety of pigs raised for slaughter over the lives of human beings," TCRP's Scott Medlock said. "TDCJ has literally made the decision that protecting its bacon is more important than protecting human lives."
The prison system, subsequent news articles explained, has about 20,000 pigs inmates raise for consumption by prisoners.
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TDCJ officials defended the purchase of the climate-controlled buildings, telling the Texas Tribune that it's "consistent with any swine operation," Collier said. "Pigs can't sweat, and temperatures are critical when they are younger."
The Huntsville Item provides a bit more detail on standard pig-raising practices, gleaned from a Purdue University "Pork Industry Handbook."
Ideally, the newborn pig needs a clean, dry, draft-free environment with clean air and a temperature of about 85°F to 90°F the first three days of life. In contrast, the most comfortable temperature for the sow is approximately 60°F to 65°F. In central farrowing units, these two temperature requirements are handled by maintaining a room temperature of about 65°F to 75°F and providing supplemental zone heat for the young pigs.
Maybe that's what TDCJ needs: another handbook. Perhaps "How Not to Kill Prisoners through Hyperthermia."