Society

Three Death Row Inmates Sue Louisiana Prison Over ‘Indescribable’ Heat

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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Three death row inmates filed suit against Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola or The Farm, over what they say is extreme heat inside the prison’s death row tiers.

Inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee say that their preexisting medical conditions leave them at greater risk for heat-related illness and death. All three men have hypertension, according to the San Francisco Gate. They filed suit against the prison in June.

The first day of a federal trial began in Baton Rouge on Monday. An attorney for the inmates, David Garon, told the court that based on air temperature and the heat index the temperatures inside death row is above 80 degree Fahrenheit even after sundown.

Garon also said that while the prison in West Feliciana Parish estimated adding a new air-conditioning system would cost nearly $2 million, his own estimate for the job would be closers to $550,000.

Two inmates testified Monday to what they called an “indescribable” heat temperature. There is no air conditioning or cross-ventilation on death row, where 82 inmates are housed. They are required to spend 23 hours a day inside their cells, according to the Times-Picayune.

District Judge Brian A. Jackson ordered temperature data in the prison be collected in early July in order to get a sense of what these three inmates are experiencing. At the same time, however, prison officials began taking steps to cool down death row, including blasting the outer walls of the unit with water cannons and installing window awnings.

"It just doesn't make any sense to me why this occurred," Jackson said Monday. "I'm very, very troubled by this."

He called the steps “illogical” and said they were in violation of the court order to keep all else equal while evidence was gathered.

“This just doesn’t make any sense to me why this occurred,” Jackson said.

He said either someone at the prison exercised “shockingly poor judgment” or was making a “concerted effort” to tamper with evidence.

There’s been a great deal of debate over just how hot it gets inside Angola.

Luigi Romolo, regional climatologist with the Southern Regional Climate Center, told The Advocate that the heat index – a combination of temperature and humidity – would likely never reach above 120 degrees indoors.

The National Weather Service says anything above 105 degrees can cause increasingly severe heat disorders with continued exposure. In extreme hot, humid weather, which is the norm for a Louisiana summer, the body can become unable to cool itself, resulting in heat stroke.

The extreme heat could violate the inmates’ constitutional right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The suit also cites the federal law requiring accomodation for people with disabilities.

Sources: NOLA.com, sfgate.com