One of the purposes of incarceration is to penalize criminal offenders for breaking the law. However, protecting the civil rights of inmates is also critically important under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the past few weeks, the Harris County Hail has faced controversy for the deaths of several inmates, possibly from heat stroke.
The 10th death this year
Since the beginning of 2023, 10 detainees in the Harris County Jail have passed away unexpectedly due to medical emergencies. Four occurred in July, with two of these occurring just last week. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office claims that the deceased inmates had preexisting medical conditions that put them at greater risk for severe reactions such as death. The Texas Rangers have launched an investigation into the conditions surrounding the deaths. Under Texas law, an independent law enforcement agency must investigate all fatalities occurring in a county jail.
A history of civil rights criticism
Critics have long called for better conditions and more protections for civil rights in Harris County Jail and. Just last March, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards gave it a failing grade for providing minimum medical services to its population. In 2022, 28 inmates perished in Harris County Jail, including a 28-year-old man, who suffered diabetic ketoacidosis when he did not receive his insulin medication. His body languished in his cell for half an hour after a guard reported his death.
Searching for answers
The spate of deaths has led many members of the public to question whether detainees receive the medication and humane living conditions protected under the Eighth Amendment. The jail has an obligation to provide adequate medical care to detainees. The failure to do so could exacerbate or even cause a medical emergency. Others speculate that the hellish Texas summer heat could be at fault. When the temperature climbs, it creates a higher risk of heat stroke and dehydration, which, combined with preexisting conditions, can prove deadly.