Sensors have been installed on the death-row tiers at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to monitor summertime heat indexes that several ailing condemned killers successfully claimed violate their constitutional rights and increase their risk of heatstroke or even death, newly filed federal court documents show.
The heat and humidity sensors, which will calculate the heat index using a National Weather Service formula, will measure heat indexes from April 1 through Oct. 31 as ordered by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, of Baton Rouge, in response to a lawsuit inmates filed against state corrections officials in 2013.
Those officials have provided court-appointed special master Paul Hebert with a laptop computer that gives him direct daily access to the temperature and relative humidity data on each death-row tier, according to the state’s revised second heat remediation plan.
Jackson accepted the second plan last month.
As part of that plan, the maximum-security prison at Angola also has installed two shower water valve controllers on the tiers that allow inmates to select between “hot” and “cold” water.
“The ‘hot’ controller will supply the water at seasonally preset temperature as the ‘regular’ hygienic showers. The ‘cold’ controller will supply water from the cold water line only,” the state’s attorneys explained in documents filed April 8.
Those documents also indicate the prison has purchased an additional ice machine to be installed next to the current machine on death row. There also is an ice house on the prison grounds that can serve as another ice source for the death-row inmates should the need arise, the state’s lawyers noted.
All death-row inmates also have received individual ice containers, the lawyers added, and additional fans have been installed on the death-row tiers.
Hebert is being given the current tier location for each of the lawsuit’s three inmate plaintiffs — Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee — and will be promptly notified if they are moved to a different tier.
“In the event the prison encounters circumstances in which it cannot continue the operation of the second heat remediation plan, the prison staff can transfer the plaintiffs to a four cell tier at Camp F (where the death chamber is located). That … tier has the ability to be air-conditioned,” the revised plan states.
Mercedes Montagnes, of The Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, the lead attorney for Ball, Code and Magee, said Thursday she had no comment on the state’s revised plan.
Two months ago, the inmates’ lawyers characterized a daily cool shower, personal ice chests and more fans as “half-hearted measures” to remedy the high heat indexes that Jackson and the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Jackson ordered in late 2013 that heat indexes on Angola’s death row not be allowed to surpass 88 degrees, but the federal appellate court ruled last summer that the judge’s directive effectively required the state to air-condition the death-row tiers.
The appeals court said Ball, Code and Magee are not entitled to air conditioning but suggested possible remedies such as cool showers at least once a day, cold drinking water and ice, personal ice chests and fans, more ice machines, and diverting cool air from the death-row guard pod into the death-row tiers.
The state rejected the latter suggestion for security and engineering reasons.
Ball is on death row for shooting a beer delivery man to death during the 1996 armed robbery of a lounge in Gretna. Magee was convicted and condemned to die for the 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife and their 5-year-old son in a subdivision near Mandeville. Code received the death penalty for the 1985 murders of four people at a house in Shreveport.