BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A New Orleans-based advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that hot temperatures create inhumane conditions for death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Filed on behalf of three inmates, the lawsuit says the prisoners are forced to live in poorly ventilated cells that lack air conditioning, and average temperatures exceed 95 degrees during the summer. The suit says that because of Louisiana's humidity, the heat index — a measure that factors in temperature and humidity — can be dangerous.
The Promise of Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of indigent defendants, filed the lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and prison wardens Burl Cain and Angela Norwood.
"The heat conditions on the Death Row tiers are, simply put, extreme and unsafe," the lawsuit says. "Exposure to such heat conditions puts even a healthy individual at risk of heat stroke, which can precipitate permanent neurological damage and death."
The three plaintiffs have underlying health conditions that the lawsuit said could be exacerbated by the heat. All three suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure and one of the inmates also has been diagnosed with diabetes and hepatitis, the suit said.
LeBlanc's spokeswoman, Pam Laborde, said Monday that the corrections department cannot comment on pending litigation, but will respond in court.
The lawsuit charges that the extreme temperatures allowed at the Angola prison put the inmates at a substantial risk of serious harm to their health and safety, a violation of their constitutional rights. The suit alleges that the inmates and their attorneys have attempted to talk with Cain about their concerns since April 2012.
Mercedes Montagnes, an attorney for the group, said Cain has dismissed the concerns.
"He has discounted it as a problem, saying the conditions are completely reasonable," Montagnes said.
According to the lawsuit, the areas of the death row facility that house visitation rooms, guard towers and administrative offices are air conditioned. However, the six death row tiers occupied by the inmates only have fans that "feel like blow dryers blowing hot air into the cells," the suit says.
The death row inmates are generally allowed out of their cells for one hour each day. Ice provided to the inmates contains debris and is infested with insects, the lawsuit states. Water piped in for showers provide no relief and is generally "scalding" hot when the inmates use it, according to the complaint filed in the Baton Rouge-based Middle District court.