State corrections officials complained last fall to a federal appellate court that a Baton Rouge federal judge was micromanaging the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola by ordering heat indexes on death row at the Angola prison not top 88 degrees from April through October.
Now, the three death-row inmates whose 2013 lawsuit against the state prompted Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s December order are claiming the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also is trying to micromanage the prison.
A three-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled last month that Jackson’s order effectively required the state to air-condition death row. The panel sent the case back to the judge to consider other remedies to correct the state’s violation of the three condemned prisoners’ constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Those prisoners have medical conditions, and they claim the sweltering heat on death row exacerbate those ailments.
The appeals court panel said remedies that Jackson could consider include diverting cooler air from the guards’ pod on death row into the death-row tiers; air-conditioning one of the four death-row tiers for the benefit of prisoners susceptible to heat-related illness; giving inmates access to cool showers at least once daily; providing ample supplies of cold drinking water and ice at all times; supplying personal ice containers and individual fans; and installing additional ice machines.
In asking the 5th Circuit panel or the entire appeals court to rehear the case, attorneys for death-row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argue Jackson’s order was less intrusive than the remedies suggested by the panel.
“The remedies that the Court suggests — in addition to being insufficient to remedy the constitutional violation — require more micromanaging of the prison’s operation of Death Row tiers than air conditioning,” the prisoners’ lawyers contend in petitions filed recently at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit.
Attorneys for the state said 5th Circuit rules do not allow the state to file a response to the petitions unless the court orders a response. The state did not ask for a rehearing.
Jackson approved the state’s court-ordered remediation plan for death row last year, which included adding air conditioning, providing ice chests filled with ice and allowing death-row inmates cold showers once a day. The 5th Circuit halted the plan’s implementation last summer while the case was being appealed.
“The district court did not order air conditioning,” the inmates’ attorneys stress in asking the entire 5th Circuit to vacate the panel’s decision and rehear the case. “The district court made factual findings that a maximum heat index of 88 degrees was necessary to remove unreasonable risks, then gave the prison full latitude in the method of achieving this objective. Defendants chose air conditioning. This distinction is critical.”
The prisoners’ attorneys say the condemned men are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day; have “extremely limited access” to ice, and their drinking water is lukewarm; their lone daily shower is maintained between 100 and 120 degrees; the death-row tiers are equipped with one non-oscillating, 30-inch fan for every two inmates, and the fans do not provide equal air flow to each cell; and the windows on the tiers are louvers that do not open wide and do not provide the same air flow as traditional windows.
The inmates’ attorneys say Jackson’s establishment of a maximum heat index of 88 degrees must be upheld, and they claim that an increased risk of serious harm from heat-related illness is “widespread” among the 80-plus prisoners on death row.
The state Department of Corrections says it provides constitutionally appropriate accommodations to its inmates. The department also contends that constitutional mandates and established case law do not require air conditioning for death-row prisoners.
Ball is on death row for fatally shooting a beer delivery man during a 1996 armed robbery of a lounge in Gretna. Magee was sentenced to die for the 2007 shotgun killings of his estranged wife and their 5-year-old son in Mandeville. Code received the death penalty for the 1985 murders of four people at a house in Shreveport.