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Extreme heat creates hazardous work conditions for Texas corrections staff

By Anna Dang ·

As temperatures across Texas surpassed 100 degrees, the deputy director of AFSCME Texas Correction Employees Council 907, Clifton Buchanan, warned state lawmakers in July that corrections officers face dangerous working conditions due to the heat.

A report by Texas A&M University indicates that Texas prisons do not have the climate control to regulate extreme heat. According to the report, the temperatures inside units can average 110 degrees.  Texas is one of at least 13 states without universal air-conditioning in prisons; only 30% of the state’s prisons are fully air-conditioned.

The extreme heat and widespread lack of climate control are dangerous for both the incarcerated population and staff members of Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The report documents heat-related deaths of incarcerated people and a rise in heat-related illnesses among the incarcerated and staff.

In a July hearing held by Texas House Committee on Appropriations, Buchanan testified about how extreme heat is hazardous for corrections officers.

“Imagine going up and down stairs at a football stadium in the heat of the day, while wearing a coat. That is what these extreme conditions for staff are like,” said Buchanan, describing the experience of wearing required safety vests while running through stairs to conduct security checks. “Officers work 16 to 18 hours a day … six to eight days straight. Standing on cement floors, with no place to sit or rest in this extreme heat.”

Texas prisons have taken several measures to make conditions safer in lieu of climate control, such as giving incarcerated people access to ice and water, fans, and respite areas. Buchanan said those steps don’t go far enough.

He urged the committee to provide funds to control the climate inside prisons, adding that excessive heat is a big reason why corrections staff quit and call in sick.

“The solution can’t just be [to] drink more fluids, especially when staff may not even get a restroom break during their shifts,” said Buchanan. “The state must start looking at every scenario that affects the hiring and retention of staff for TDCJ. Working conditions, such as extreme heat, (are) a factor. … We must improve working conditions. Climate control is one of the many things that can help.”

Buchanan, who was himself a CO for 26 years, has first-hand knowledge of the impact that improved working conditions can have.  He urged the committee members to visit prisons to see for themselves just how hot they get and understand what corrections staff endure every day.

“In law enforcement, where staff are tasked with working physically demanding and dangerous jobs, we must do everything we can do to provide them with the best working conditions possible,” he said. “We hope we can continue to work with legislation on improving these dehumanizing working conditions.”

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