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Family Files Suit Over Texas Inmates & Air Conditioning

Jail - Prison Bars
An inmate waits for the bars to a dorm at a minimum-security facility in Texas to be opened. (credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers/Getty Images)

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A North Texas family has filed a federal lawsuit against the state, after a man died in a prison that didn't have air conditioning.

Larry Gene McCollum suffered heat stroke last summer, while serving time at the Hutchins State Jail in Dallas. The 58-year-old was rushed to a Dallas emergency room, but died.

When McCollum arrived at the hospital he reportedly has a body temperature of 109-degrees.

State law requires that all jails keep an inside temperature between 65 and 85 degrees, but that law doesn't apply to state prisons.

"Temperature measurements from within the prison indicate that the heat index would have been between 121 and 128," Texas Civil Rights Project Attorney Scott Medlock said of the conditions on the day McCollum died.

Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) say many of the prisons in Texas were built before air conditioning was in common use and the cost of retrofitting the facilities would be astronomical.

"Many of the facilities were built before a time that air condition was commonly installed," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said. "Prisons built in the 80's and 90's didn't include air conditioning because of the added construction, maintenance and utility costs."

TDCJ officials say there are guidelines in place to help inmate's better deal with the heat.

"We provide training for staff to look for and notice those signs of extreme temperature or heat-illness," said Clark. "We [also] utilize fans that will draw out that hot air within the dorm areas, and try to increase the air flow."

Currently 90 Texas prison are partially air-conditioned.

"Of the 111 units, 21 are fully air conditioned," Clark said. "But most of the offender housing areas are not air conditioned."

McCollum, who suffered from hypertension and was overweight, was serving a yearlong sentence at the Hutchins Jail. He had only been there three days when he collapsed.

"He was only supposed to be there for 11 months and then he got a death sentence," Attorney Medlock said.

There are some 150,000 prisoners housed in the Texas prison system.

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