While summertime water issues are not new — complaints have rolled in for years about the sulfur smell in water at state prison facility near Marlin — this summer’s heat and water outages at Connally highlight unrest over working and living conditions inside many of Texas’ 111 state prisons.
All but a few aren’t air conditioned. And most of them, built two decades ago when Texas tripled the size of its corrections system in just five years, face increasing maintenance costs as the infrastructure ages along with the average age of the prisoners.
The convict population has declined in recent years, and Texas is in the process of closing two additional prisons. Some officials are wondering whether one of them should have been Connally.
“If the water problems continue there in any way, the (prisons) agency needs to think about getting out of that location,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston. “You shouldn’t have 2,100 inmates and several hundred employees in that kind of summer heat, with no water.”
According to prison officials, two city water wells supplying the prison broke on July 22. Three days later, the prison’s water tower went dry, and tankers of water and trailers of ice were brought in to keep the lockup operating, said Jeff Baldwin, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.
With no water, the laundry, showers and kitchens could not operate as usual. Sack meals were served to convicts. Portable toilets were brought in. Complaints about dysentery and illnesses quickly spread, though prison officials denied they were true.
Although water service was restored July 28, boil-water notices issued by the State Department of Health Services remained in effect, and the water supply was not approved for drinking until Aug. 2, officials said.
Baldwin said prison operations have returned to normal. But other officials confirmed that there have been new complaints about electrical outages in some areas. Workers bringing in fans and portable air conditioners are regularly tripping circuit breakers.Chairman Whitmire told Ward that, “We have enough empty beds in the system to take them, even with the two prisons we’re closing.” If that's the case they should do it. This is the second summer running the unit has run out of water and it's not like the state has ponied up to improve the unit's infrastructure..
Grits thought Connally should have been on the short list for closure this year and that the Lege missed an opportunity to close more units while there was political momentum to do so. (I don't fault the decision to close units in Dallas and Mineral Wells, but IMO they could and should have gone further.) TDCJ should take the senator's advice and shutter Connally of its own accord, then the Lege could polish it off in 2015.