Ph.D. Student Studying the Effects of Extreme Temperatures in Prisons

Jazmin Palacios is a first year Ph.D. student in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice, studying the effects of temperature in prisons by combining her concerns about climate change and her interests in criminal justice.

Through her research, Palacios found that rising temperatures across the globe are linked to major climate hazards. Studies have shown that 2019 closed out the hottest decade ever recorded. In 2021, the CDC found that more than 600 people in the U.S. die from extreme heat every year. Although most correctional facilities were built after the invention of air conditioning, at least 13 states in the US South do not have universal air conditioning in their prisons. Palacios found that in just Texas, only 30 out of the 109 correctional facilities have air conditioning. She also found that most Texas inmates who died from causes related to heat did so because the prison system failed to provide safe temperature conditions.

Palacios used court cases filed by those who have suffered excessive heat injury in prisons, medical documents, and even architectural research to gather material for her M.A. thesis. Her research mainly focuses on southern states, but she has extended her scope to look into prisons across the nation. Overall, information from inside of the prisons is not completely accessible to the general public, leading Palacios to take information from other sources to build her thesis.

Through her thesis, Palacios hopes to raise awareness about increasing temperatures in prisons and wants to see institutions develop response plans to this growing issue. With the progression of climate change and the increasing number of cases involving heat related illnesses and injuries, something needs to be done to prevent injury of not just the prisoners, but the correctional officers as well. Palacios found that from 2012-2013, at least 147 Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers suffered heat related injuries.

Twenty-three inmates have died from heat related causes in recent years in Texas alone, with 10 occurring during the 2011 heatwave. Palacios writes, “Although we are all at risk to the dangers of climate change, some populations are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures. The incarcerated populations’ sensitivity to extreme heat and inability to control their living conditions places them at an increased risk of heat-related death or injury.”

After Palacios completes her Ph.D., she plans to teach as a professor and give back to her community. She hopes her thesis brings awareness to the issue of extreme temperatures in correctional facilities and how it affects not just the inmates, but everyone involved in the prison system.