BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The state corrections department said Monday the only way it can lower heat levels on Louisiana’s death row to a federal judge’s requirements is by installing air conditioning.
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled in December that death row gets so hot it violates U.S. constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
He demanded a plan that will cool the cells at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola so the heat index never goes above 88 degrees, a plan that state prison officials filed Monday with the court.
Windows and fans are currently the primary sources of ventilation on death row, which was built in 2006.
The heat remediation proposal submitted by the Department of Corrections and the Angola prison would involve buying air conditioning units and a climate monitoring system for the cells.
“The heat and humidity sensors will transmit their readings to the building’s existing Johnson Control energy management system every 15 minutes. The system is capable of producing graphs showing temperature/humidity conditions over any time period,” James Hilburn, a lawyer for the state, wrote in a document filed with the plan.
The 22-page plan, devised by an outside engineering consultant, didn’t include a price tag. Estimates during the trial ranged from $550,000 to as much as $2 million to install air conditioning on the death row tiers.
Jackson said he wouldn’t consider cost as a factor in his review of the plan.
Lawyers for condemned killers Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argued the heat could worsen the men’s health conditions, which include high blood pressure and other ailments.
Prison officials said the conditions might be uncomfortable during the hottest summer months, but they are safe. They said the inmates have access to medical care and none of the three plaintiffs have ever been diagnosed with adverse heat reactions.
In his December ruling, Jackson said the heat data collected by a court-ordered contractor in July and August showed that inmates housed in the death row cell tiers are subjected to temperatures and heat indices that are in the National Weather Service’s ‘caution,’ ‘extreme caution,’ and ‘danger’ zones. He said state prison officials must change those conditions.
The corrections department is appealing Jackson’s ruling, but wasn’t able to postpone filing the cooling plan. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused last week to order a stay in the case, saying it was premature.
But the appeals court cautioned Jackson about requiring the Angola penitentiary to make the changes it will propose in its plan while the appeal was pending.
Jackson traveled to Angola, 60 miles north of Baton Rouge, to check out the cell blocks for himself before issuing his ruling.
The federal judge also is considering ordering sanctions against attorneys for the state, questioning whether they “conducted themselves with honesty and candor” during the court proceedings and trial last year. A hearing on that issue is set for March 12.
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