In a victory for justice in this life, a court found this week that air conditioning is not a constitutional right for prisoners on death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
That doesn’t mean the state can be gratuitously cruel: A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that when inmates are ailing and might be physically injured by the heat, the prison has to make reasonable accommodations for them.
That makes a lot more sense than a mandate for air conditioning for the killers awaiting execution.
The appeals court decision was in considerable agreement with Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, of Baton Rouge, who said the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments would apply to inmates facing health issues during Louisiana summers.
But the appeals court judges said the state doesn’t have to cool down all the tiers and sent the case back to Jackson to work out remedies for inmates with demonstrated health problems — in addition to the longer-term health problem of facing lethal injections one day.
The appeals court judges suggested a lot of little things that might help, from more ice water for the inmates or diverting some cool air from the guards’ pod to one of the tiers of cells. Jackson’s earlier ruling essentially would be a mandate for air conditioning in the unit, the judges said.
So there might be, in the future, some air conditioning on death row, and we predict more inmates will discover health problems that require adjustment of the temperature in the summer. In those cases, the prison won’t be under a comprehensive federal mandate based on the thermometer. Instead, as common sense suggested all along, the Constitution isn’t a license to injure somebody’s physical health, but it does not require Angola to become a spa, either.