ANGOLA — With the Louisiana summer approaching, officials at Louisiana State Penitentiary have installed heat sensors to monitor conditions on death row.
Often referred to as Angola, the prison was the target of a lawsuit filed in 2013 on behalf of three death-row inmates who claimed excessive heat in the prison violated their civil rights, and put them at risk of severe injury or death.
The three plaintiffs — Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee — won their argument before Chief Judge Brian Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, who ordered that the heat index in the prison’s death row not exceed 88 degrees. An appellate court rejected that directive, however, contending that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to an air-conditioned facility, which the 88-degree threshold would effectively require.
Jackson has since signed off on the state's secondary plan to monitor the heat in the death row tiers at the prison.
Jean Casella, co-director of Solitary Watch, said open-air prison cells in Louisiana do not meet basic human rights conditions.
“The condemned men at Angola live for years awaiting execution in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement in small cells with little to no human contact, which itself has been shown to cause extreme suffering and drive people mad,” Casella recently told the Louisiana Record. “The fact that they should also be subjected to nearly unbearable levels of heat every summer seems beyond cruel.”
In addition to the heat sensors, prison officials have since provided ice containers to each of the death-row inmates, increased the number of fans throughout the death-row areas and installed cold water-only shower options. Additionally, ice is available from several locations.
The newly installed sensors will monitor heat and humidity in accordance with National Weather Service calculations from April 1 through Oct. 31 each year. A court-appointed special master, Paul Hebert, can monitor the measurements remotely.
Counsel for the plaintiffs refused to comment on the changes or ongoing litigation on the matter. Mercedes Montagnes of The Promise of Justice Initiative leads the plaintiffs’ legal team.
The Louisiana Attorney General's office is handling the case or the prison. Ruth Wisher, press secretary for Attorney General Jeff Landry, declined to comment.