Texas Prison's Water Problems Attract National Attention

Gawker got wind that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Connally Unit recently was shut down due to "chronic staff staffing shortages and water outages."
Thu July 12, 2012 12:57 am
Flickr | miss_millions

As the state of Texas endures another sweltering summer, so do its 160,000 prisoners.

Last month, the Connally Unit in Kenedy, Texas, located about 60 miles southeast of San Antonio, was shut down due to "chronic staffing shortages and water outages," the Austin-American Statesman 's Mike Ward reported. Although the incident might seem connected to ongoing drought conditions, the prison's lack of water was reportedly due to the city's malfunctioning water well.

During the month before the prison finally shut down and temporarily shuffled its inmates to other units, the facility had been rationing food, bringing water in on tanker trucks, limiting inmates' showers, and giving out bagged lunches due to kitchen shutdown, according to Ward.

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice , blamed the unit's closure on its lack of staff rather than the water shortage — the maximum-security facility had been operating at about a 40 percent vacancy rate for guards, Clark told the Statesman.

However, a recent Gawker post titled "Peeing in Cups and Green Bologna: Life in the Texas Prison Without Water" suggests that conditions at the Connally Unit may have been worse than official reports indicated, and that the blame may lie considerably on lack of water. 

On Monday, the site posted an anonymous report from a reader who works with families of inmates at the prison facility. The reader describes the brutal living conditions at Connally before its temporary closure:

The men were locked up in cells 23 hours a day in over 100 degree heat with no A/C and warm sack lunches of green bologna. No water with just a few bottles. Peeing in cups, not able to flush. It was a health hazard. ... If two men stuck together in solitary confinement in over 100 degree heat with no airflow and green bologna with no way of even flushing a toilet isn't considered cruel and unusual punishment I don't know what is.

In a statement to Gawker, Clark said that the agency had "acted swiftly and brought in three 500 gallon water trucks and a six thousand gallon water tanker" during the period of water interruption, and that the offenders had had access to drinking water for the entire duration of the period. He said that the facility is now back to normal, with the exception of an every-other-day showering schedule.

These new details about the Connally shutdown come on the heels of two lawsuits challenging the lack of air conditioning in Texas prisons — only 21 of the 111 state prisons are fully air conditioned, and many of those that are aren't conditioned in the areas where the inmates actually live, the New York Times reported in June.

“The Constitution doesn’t require a comfortable prison, but it requires a safe and humane prison,” Scott Medlock, director of the prisoners’ rights program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Times.

A total of four offenders residing in Texas prisons died of the heat last summer. "That is a problem," Hamilton Nolan of Gawker wrote in June.

Some online commenters haven't shared the same concern for inmates' well-being. "This is prison, not summer camp," Gawker user Bro-Science wrote. "Just don't do things that will land you in a Texas prison and you won't have to worry about these "inconviences" [sic]," said remmuh80, another Gawker user.

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