The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

August 17, 2013

TDCJ pigs, but not inmates, get air conditioning

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice approved a contract to purchase swine nursing tools, which includes air conditioners, according to state documents, a move civil rights activists concerned about the health risks of unair-conditioned cells called “ridiculous.”

The contract with Art’s Way Scientific, a company that builds animal housing, for $750,000 to purchase prefabricated modular farrowing units and nursing pens for their swine production program was approved in June.

The units “create the ideal environment for swine and the people who work with them. Our modular AG buildings are completely climate controlled, easy to clean and sanitize and include the most advanced swine equipment including boar isolation, gestation, farrowing, nursery, finishing, feed study and show pigs,” Dan Palmer, president of Art’s Way Scientific, said in a press release.

The seemingly standard — and quiet – purchase was met with recent criticism from the Texas Civil Rights Project, a group which in part advocates for inmate rights, after it was reported on Grits for Breakfast, a blog that focuses on Texas criminal justice issues. The group says that the deal is “ridiculous” because TDCJ does not have temperature-controlled prison cells, except for the psychiatric, hospital and geriatric wings, yet provides it for pigs.

“Fourteen prisoners have died from heat stroke in recent years,” Scott Medlock, d­irector of TCRP’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, said. “It is outrageous that TDCJ would prioritize the safety of pigs raised for slaughter over the lives of human beings. TDCJ has literally made the decision that protecting its bacon is more important than protecting human lives.”

The contract was awarded through a bidding process and would provide six additional modular buildings for the swine production facilities. According to the TDCJ website, the system already maintains five separate units that breed, farrow and wean pigs, which are readied for process at a feeding location to “(add) value to these market age pigs.”

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