Attorneys for three Louisiana condemned murderers claim the state’s latest plan to reduce the heat on death row proposes only “half-hearted measures” such as a daily cool shower, personal ice chests and more fans and is woefully inadequate to lower the ailing inmates’ risk of heatstroke or other serious harm.
The lawyers representing Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee are asking Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to reject the second heat remediation plan submitted last fall by state corrections officials.
Jackson ruled in late 2013 in the inmates’ lawsuit that the searing heat on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of their constitutional rights, and he ordered heat indexes — how hot it actually feels — on death row not to top 88 degrees from April through October.
The state’s first court-ordered plan called for air conditioning, ice chests filled with ice and once-daily cool showers.
Jackson gave that plan his blessing in May 2014, but a New Orleans federal appeals court, while agreeing with the judge that the state was violating the prisoners’ rights, ruled last July that Jackson’s heat index order effectively required the state to air-condition the death-row housing.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the inmates are not entitled to air conditioning, and the case was sent back to Jackson for the consideration of other possible remedies. The appellate court suggested cool showers at least once a day, cold drinking water and ice, personal ice chests and individual fans, more ice machines and diverting cool air from the death-row guard pod into the death-row tiers.
In its second heat remediation plan filed in October, the state proposed a daily cool shower, ice chests and more fans for each inmate but said opening the death-row tier doors to allow cooler air to flow from the guard pod into the tiers is unworkable from an engineering and security standpoint.
The prisoners’ attorneys filed their response to that plan this week, calling it “ineffectual at best, and at worst a demonstration of their continued deliberate indifference” to the inmates’ plight.
“We are reviewing plaintiffs’ response and will be filing our reply to that response for Chief Judge Jackson’s consideration,” James Hilburn, one of the state’s attorneys, said Thursday.
The inmates’ lawyers, including lead attorney Mercedes Montagnes, of The Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, contend the state’s second plan does not specify the temperature for the cool shower.
“They ignore the evidence in the record that, during the hot stretches of summer, the tap water is lukewarm at its coolest,” the inmates’ lawyers write.
As for the fans, those attorneys say, federal health officials have recognized that, at elevated temperatures, fans may increase the heat load on the body and worsen the risk of heat-related illness.
The inmates’ attorneys are urging Jackson to take one of the following steps: Order implementation of the original heat remediation plan; order a plan that specifically addresses the extremely high temperatures and humidity on death row during the summer months by, for instances, allowing the inmates sufficient daily time in an air-conditioned environment; or give the state one more chance to develop an adequate plan.