Extreme heat in Texas prisons linked with higher death rates

November 15, 2022 – Death rates were higher among people in Texas prisons without air conditioning compared to those living in climate-controlled facilities, according to a new study.

Antonella Zanobetti, principal research scientist in Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health, was senior author of the study, which was published November 2 in JAMA Network Open. Led by Brown University, the study also included researchers from Boston University and the organization Texas Prison Community Advocates.

During the study period, from 2001 to 2019, there were 2,083 deaths in Texas prisons without air conditioning and 1,381 in prisons with air conditioning. The researchers found that, in prisons without air conditioning, a 1-degree increase above 85°F was linked with a 0.7% increase in the risk of death. In addition, an extreme heat day was associated with a 15.1% increased risk.

Roughly 13% of Texas prison deaths—271 deaths—may be attributable to extreme heat in prisons without air conditioning, according to the researchers. Not a single heat-related death occurred in climate-controlled prisons, they noted.

The researchers said that adopting an air conditioning policy in Texas prisons may be important to protect the health of people living and working there.

Read the study: Provision of Air Conditioning and Heat-Related Mortality in Texas Prisons

Read a Science Daily article about the study: Extreme temperatures take deadly toll on people in Texas prisons, study finds

Read a Grist article: Study: Extreme heat responsible for hundreds of deaths in Texas prisons