State appeals judge's finding that hot conditions at state's death row are unconstitutional

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — State officials are asking a federal appellate court to reverse the judge's finding that hot conditions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row are unconstitutional.

In a filing with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for the state Department of Corrections argue that there is no basis in law for Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson's order that heat indexes on death row — how hot it actually feels — not top 88 degrees from April through October.

State officials claim the judge's ruling and order effectively requires the state to install an "extensive and expensive" air conditioning unit or some other humidity-controlling device, something no court has ever mandated, to correct a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"No court, including the Fifth Circuit, has ever directed a prison to implement air conditioning or any other mechanical cooling system in order to achieve an acceptable heat index in any type of correctional facility in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Texas," the state's attorneys note in court papers that were filed last month at the appeals court in New Orleans.

The attorneys say inmates don't have a constitutional right to mechanical cooling. While the Eighth Amendment doesn't permit inhumane conditions, they say, it also doesn't mandate comfortable prisons.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1s39Th2) attorneys for three Louisiana condemned killers who sued the state last year over the oppressive heat have until Sept. 23 to enter their response to the state's filing.

Jackson toured the Angola prison last summer and ruled in December that high heat indexes on death row amounted to a violation of the inmates' constitutional rights. He ordered the state to devise a plan to cool down death row.

The judge in May approved the state's court-mandated remediation plan — which includes adding air conditioning, providing chests filled with ice and allowing inmates once-daily cold showers — and ordered its immediate implementation. But the 5th Circuit stayed the order on June 6.

During a court-ordered monitoring period last summer, the state's attorneys say the heat index on the death-row tiers frequently ranged between 86 and 97 degrees, and rarely exceeded 99 degrees.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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