Cruel and unusual
Federal Judge Keith Ellison had every right to be angry when he blasted the state Friday for violating a settlement reached last year to stop putting inmates in hot prison cells, which the prisoners argued violated the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
At least 22 people have died as a result of oppressive conditions at 15 state prisons since 1998, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The settlement in a class-action case Ellison oversaw required the temperature be kept under 88 degrees inside the Wallace Pack Unit near Navasota. The agreement also said comparable conditions must be provided to any Pack inmates covered under the settlement who were transferred to a different prison.
That didn’t happen for 37 men recently transferred to the Richard LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont. Once again, they sweltered in a facility with a bad cooling system.
Ellison said the state had shown “negligible interest” in determining the conditions at LeBlanc before sending the inmates there despite available evidence that temperatures inside the prison exceeded those set forth in the settlement. He ordered the state to return the transferred inmates to Pack.
Worse than the state’s noncompliance with the settlement was its apparent effort to hide the truth.
Scott Medlock, an attorney for the inmates transferred to LeBlanc, said prison officials assured him that the prison’s cooling system “has been functioning properly and has maintained the temperature just below 85 degrees.” But 15 measurements taken during a subsequent site visit showed 14 areas above 90 degrees and one above 100. ...
Texas operates more than 100 state prisons, jails and other facilities, with 10 more run by private operators. It’s a sure bet the heat is just as oppressive inside many of those facilities.
Life-threatening conditions exist in Texas prisons because state officials aren’t fully committed to rehabilitating inmates. The TDCJ has programs that prepare inmates for their eventual return to society, but the effectiveness of those programs is blunted by the inhumane ways the prison system treats the incarcerated. ...
Smarter approach on HPV
The numbers might not surprise anyone who remembers the heated battle in 2007 over whether Texas should require sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, the virus strains that cause most kinds of cervical cancer.
But a dozen years after lawmakers blocked such a vaccination requirement, Texans are paying the price.
Only 40% of Texas teens are up to date on the HPV vaccination, trailing the national average by 9 percentage points, The Texas Tribune reported this week. Texas has the fifth-highest rate of cervical cancer cases in the country. State officials chalked up 431 deaths and $41 million in hospital care last year to the disease — terrible costs that could be reduced if more people were vaccinated.
We recognize some parents have reservations about vaccines generally, or this one in particular, though years of studies have proven the HPV vaccines to be safe and effective.
We also understand some parents are uncomfortable with vaccinating their children against a sexually transmitted virus, hoping their daughters and sons would never contract such a thing. But hoping does not keep people safe.
To be fair, Texas hasn’t ignored this issue.
The state provided nearly $24 million in grants to health care providers for HPV vaccination efforts through 2016, according to a report prepared at the Legislature’s request.
But in a state that leads the nation in uninsured residents, that approach simply isn’t reaching enough families.
Texas should consider taking a page from Australia’s playbook. As The Tribune reported, Australia is on track to become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue, owing in large part to a campaign providing HPV vaccinations at schools, at no cost to families.
It’s important to note that Australia does not require teens to get the vaccine; it simply removes the cost and convenience barriers many families face.
Women need not suffer, and taxpayers need not pay, for cases of cervical cancer that could be easily prevented. But that will happen only once Texas develops a more robust effort to reach students and their families who want the HPV vaccine.