Three ailing condemned killers who claim Louisiana’s death row is unbearably hot can look forward to a daily cool shower, personal ice chests and more fans, but state corrections officials say opening the death-row tier doors to let cooler air flow from the guard pod into the tiers is a bad idea from both an engineering and security standpoint.
The latter idea was suggested in July by a New Orleans federal appeals court that said death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary doesn’t have to be air-conditioned, but the three Angola inmates who sued the state are entitled to some measure of relief from the heat.
In the latest heat remediation plan submitted by state corrections officials to Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, of Baton Rouge, attorneys for those officials say opening the death-row tier doors to draw cool air from the air-conditioned guard pod would overload the building’s existing air conditioning system and cause it to fail.
The lawyers also claim the air-conditioned air would be “sucked straight out of the building” by the exhaust fans on each tier, resulting in unconditioned outdoor air entering the pod and creating humidity and moisture issues in the pod area — and mold growth.
But more importantly, the attorneys and death-row Warden James “Jimmy” Cruze Jr. warn, opening the death-row tier doors would create serious security concerns.
Cruze states in an Oct. 22 affidavit attached to the state’s second heat remediation plan that death-row inmates are escorted by prison staff at all times when they are off their tiers. For the security of prison staff, visitors and inmates, he notes, the tier doors are always locked with controlled entry and exit.
“The suggestion to allow the tier doors to be unlocked and open for any reason other than a controlled entry and access to the tier creates a dangerous situation with a potential for a situation involving death or great bodily harm to occur,” Cruze wrote.
Jackson toured Angola in the summer of 2013 and ruled that December after a trial of the three inmates’ lawsuit that the extreme heat on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the constitutional rights of Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee.
Jackson ordered heat indexes — how hot it actually feels — on death row not to exceed 88 degrees from April through October.
The state’s first court-ordered heat remediation plan, which Jackson approved in May 2014, included air conditioning, ice chests filled with ice, and once-daily cool showers.
In its July decision, the 5th Circuit agreed with Jackson that the state was violating the inmates’ rights, but the appellate court said the judge effectively required the state to air-condition the death-row housing. The appeals court said air conditioning is not an acceptable remedy.
The 5th Circuit sent the case back to Jackson to consider other possible remedies, such as cool showers at least once a day, ample supplies of cold drinking water and ice, personal ice containers and individual fans, more ice machines, and diverting cool air from the death-row guard pod into the death-row tiers.
Jackson, in turn, ordered the state to file another heat remediation plan, which was filed Oct. 23. The judge gave the inmates’ attorneys until Nov. 23 to reply to the plan. Mercedes Montagnes, one of those attorneys, declined comment Friday.
The state’s latest plan says the temperature and humidity will be automatically monitored and recorded by a climate monitoring system for each death-row tier.
The showers will be equipped with two shower-head controllers: one set for a warm shower (between 100 and 120 degrees) and the other set at a cooler temperature range agreeable to the parties or determined by the court. Death-row inmates get 15 minutes of daily shower time.
The three inmates’ personal ice chests will be replenished with ice, as needed, by prison staff or orderlies during each 12-hour shift.