Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Texas Prison or Brazen Bull?

Abraham Roman

Would you rather serve a sentence in a Texas prison or be subject to the brazen bull? For a brief background, the brazen bull was an ancient Greek torture device, and its use was as follows: “The condemned were locked inside the device, and a fire was set under it, heating the metal until the person inside was roasted to death.” When given the option between such an absurd and inhumane device, the choice seems obvious. Unfortunately for Texas residents, the choice might not be that easy.

Climate change has caused heat levels to rise worldwide, with Texas on the way to experience one of its most extreme summers on record. Luckily, most Texas residents are able to fend off the heat with countermeasures such as A/C, fans and cold water. Sadly, these remedies are not extended to Texas inmates. According to the Texas Tribune, “More than two-thirds of Texas’ 100 prisons do not have air conditioning in most living areas inside the concrete and steel buildings where officers and prisoners work and live.” Without A/C, prison cells become pseudo-ovens that practically cook inmates who are forced to fend off the often triple digit indoor heat. 

The overwhelming heat inside prisons leads to two linked issues that partake in a vicious cycle, understaffing and desperation. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is home to several drastically understaffed units, including the Coffield unit, which has reported being 40% below its normal staffing level. Unbearable heat paired with layers of clothing and the ever present stress of working at a prison drives many officers away from duty. The lack of sufficient staff leaves inmates without officers to follow through on procedures put in place to fight off the sweltering heat, such as time in ventilated areas, cups of cold water or personal fans. 

According to The New York Times, “desperate for the guards’ attention, [inmates] lit fires or took to screaming in unison for water or for help with an inmate who had passed out.” Sources report that these conditions have led to a cycle that has caused an estimated 271 deaths between 2001 and 2019, and a speculated 41 this summer alone. Despite all of these reports, the TDCJ has not documented any deaths as heat-related since 2012. 

With such a dire issue taking place in our prisons, one would assume that both the TDCJ and Texas Legislature would prioritize the humane practice of not unlawfully murdering inmates, yet this is not the case. Quite the opposite is happening, with the aforementioned TDCJ avoiding accountability and the Legislature offering no direct aid. In May, an attempt was made by the House to supply prisons with over half a billion dollars to concentrate on the establishment of A/C units, but this offer was swiftly shot down by Texas’s majority Republican Senate. 

While one would be led to believe that it is the frugality of the TDCJ and Legislature that leads them away from simply installing A/C units, their previous actions have proven otherwise. As reported by the Texas Tribune, the TDCJ spent over $7 million dollars on a legal battle fighting against the cooling of a geriatric prison, whose estimated installation cost totaled to $4 million.

The issue at hand extends greater than just funds. A deeply instilled mindset to be “tough on crime” has led to the current savage and merciless treatment of inmates. The purpose of prisons are to be rehabilitation centers to teach and reform inmates to eventually, if possible, reintegrate them into society. Instead, prisons today are centers of exploitative labor, psychological torment and now hellish living conditions. While inmates are people who have made mistakes, the majority are people who do not deserve to be subject to tortuous malpractice. 

To help in the fight for prisoners rights, visit to learn more.

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Abraham Roman
Abraham Roman, Staff Writer
Abraham (He/Him) is a first-year Biology major at UTSA. This is his first semester at The Paisano. When he’s not doing homework, you can find him reading or playing card games. Beyond graduation, he plans on attending UT Health to become a pharmacist.

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