Texas, as you may have intuited, is hot, but Texas prisons, as you may have heard, are hotter. Since 2007, 14 inmates, including nine in 2011 alone, have died from heat-related illnesses, according to a 2014 report from UT Law School's Human Rights Clinic.
Larry McCollum's death received most of the press. McCollum was a 58-year-old Hutchins inmate -- in for a nonviolent crime -- who suffered a seizure after several 100-degree-plus days in a row. At the hospital, his body temp was 109.8 degrees. He fell into a coma and died six days later, from living in a place with high temperatures and no A/C. Lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state's prison system. That lawsuit is still playing itself out, but now the department has another one on its hands.
Heat doesn't do Bradley Caddell, who lived in Hutchins State Jail when McCollum died, any favors. He is in his early 50s, five-foot-five and obese. According to a lawsuit he recently filed, he suffered from high blood pressure, which can cause strokes. His health condition made working in the jail difficult, let alone standing, walking and breathing.
Jail doctors prescribed him a beta blocker for his blood pressure, he claims. But beta blockers have a side effect that make the heat even more dangerous for Caddell -- they can limit the body's ability to sweat, essentially keeping it from cooling itself. (Thirteen of the 14 inmates who died had health circumstances that made them more vulnerable to heat, according to the UT Law report.) Doctors recommended, due to his health and his medication, that Caddell not work in hot conditions.
He worked with boilers before he got inside, though, and in fall 2011 that experience earned him a position in the boiler room, "the hottest job assignment in the prison," according to the complaint. He claims jail personnel made him work there because they didn't want to train someone else to operate the boilers.
While working in the boiler room one day in 2012, a jail staffer wrapped a white armband on Caddell. The white armbands, according to the complaint, identified inmates susceptible to the heat because of medical conditions. Despite the armband, Caddell continued to work in the boiler room.
At the end of June last year, with his shift over at 10 p.m., Caddell returned to his bunk feeling weak and sick from the heat. He showered to cool off, according to the complaint, but it didn't work. Then he went to sleep. At 2 a.m., feeling hot, he tried to shower again. An officer stopped him.
Prisoners are supposed to have access to the showers at all times of day during the summer for relief from the heat. Officers at Hutchins, though, were not allowing night showers, and the jail administrators knew it, Caddell claims.
The next morning, Caddell showered again, and once more in the early afternoon. He wasn't cooling off, and he still felt sick. He told a supervisor he needed to go the jail's clinic. While there, he enjoyed the A/C. When his temperature was taken, he had a fever of 100 degrees. The nurses treated him, but his body temp continued to rise.
Around 6:30, the nurses called 911. At Parkland Hospital, Caddell was diagnosed with heat stroke and dehydration, according to the complaint. After he got an IV of cool fluids to course through his veins, he was released and went back to Hutchins the same night.
Eventually he was transferred to another prison, where another man had died of heat stroke, according to the complaint. Caddell now lives close to Houston. On June 20, he sued the state and nine of its employees, including Hutchins' warden and the department's top official.
"Despite knowing that at least ten people with similar medical conditions died the previous summer from heat stroke and that numerous other prisoners and correctional officers suffered heat-related injuries, (the defendants) forced Caddell to live in dangerously hot dormitories, and work in Hutchins State Jail's even hotter boiler room during the blazing hot Texas summer," he claims.
The complaint goes on to list several examples of why jail officials should have known the heat was dangerous. The heat index is broadcast over their radios every hour. A medical doctor employed by the criminal justice department kept a database of "heat-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths from around the (prison) system long before Caddell was hurt," according to the complaint.
Also, the tables inside Hutchins are hot to the touch, and prison officers routinely sweated through their uniforms, according to the complaint. Hutchins' bunk areas don't have outlets so personal fans aren't an option, according to the complaint. Other jails accommodate prisoners with fans, but, according to the 2014 report from UT Law, fans are expensive for inmates.
Recently, the AP reported that the criminal justice department is hoping to make seven state prisons a little more bearable by using large fans, like those football teams use to cool down on game days.
The state has not yet responded to the complaint.
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.