Prison guards and inmates in Beaumont say facilities are flooded and conditions are squalid, but a prison system spokesman says the conditions are not as bad as described.
"It's a nightmare for everyone, but we need to be forthcoming with the issues," Lance Lowry, head of the Texas Correctional Employees Union in Huntsville, told the Houston Press Tuesday. He said that flooding conditions have exacerbated problems for inmates and for personnel, who are already stretched thin.
But Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said he personally toured facilities Sunday and saw no standing water, unlike what an inmate's family member told the Houston Chronicle Sunday.
The inmate, housed on the first floor of the state's Stiles unit, told his wife he was stuck in "standing water up to his kneecaps when the storm came through," which remained "calf-high" on Monday, the paper reported.
However, Clark told the Houston Press in an email Tuesday, "I was at the Beaumont facilities all day Sunday and there were no flood waters inside the units. It didn’t happen. The line about knee deep water is absolutely false." (Clark provided photos that he said showed the true picture of conditions as of Sunday.)
He also provided the following information:
The Beaumont area was significantly impacted by flood waters associated with Hurricane Harvey. During the storm, the city's water system was damaged. Beaumont officials are currently working to get it restored.
Offenders at the 3 affected facilities have access to bottled water, toilets, and hot meals are being served. Laundry is being washed at other TDCJ facilities.
The department has brought in additional staff and resources to Stiles, Gist, and LeBlanc units while the city works to repair their water system:
- 6,000 & two 5,000 gallon water tankers are onsite
- Approximately 270,000 bottles of water have been delivered
- Portable toilets are being utilized
- Additional food, ice, & medicine have been delivered
Lowry told the Press that Clark is just doing his job by presenting a rosier picture, and things remain pretty bad despite the fact that TDCJ has begun providing bottled water and water trunks. Lowry said the flood conditions have only exacerbated the already tight security and safety conditions. He said he's not blaming Clark; he just wants what he believes is complete transparency.
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Lowry also said he has heard from guards who have faced disciplinary actions for missing shifts, even though the flooding in the surrounding area prevented them from driving in.
The Austin-based Prison Abolition Prisoner Support claimed in a Tuesday press release that inmates "continue to be without running water, and many have not showered or been given clean clothes in ten days." The group also claims that inmates "are without water and food is scarce," and that some have "stooped to drinking toilet water."
Update, Sept. 5, 2:05 pm: Clark provides the following update:
"The water pressure at the Stiles, Gist, and LeBlanc Units has improved significantly this afternoon. At this time, the pressure is holding between 50-60 psi. We’re hopeful that the City of Beaumont will be able to fully restore water to all users in the near future.
It is anticipated that the city will issue a boil water notice once the system is back online and the water will need to be tested by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before it’s consumed. TDCJ will keep the existing bottled water and water tankers onsite during this period."