Angola death row inmates get relief from cruel and unusual condition
POSTED: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 2:55pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 12:39pm
BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — A federal court has found that the excessive summer heat conditions for inmates on death row at Angola State Penitentiary violated Eighth Amendment rights, which protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Los Angeles based litigation firm Bird Marella and the New Orleans based non-profit Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) have been working together since June to change the conditions for their clients: Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code, and James Magee.
The lawsuit was not filed for monetary damages, but simply to have controlled temperatures within safe levels.
Six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Chief Judge Brian Jackson called for a full trial.
The trial commenced on Aug. 5, and included testimony from the plaintiffs, defendants and an array of expert witnesses.
Plaintiff James Magee testified that during the summer his cell "feels like a sauna in the morning and an oven by the afternoon."
Dr. Susi Vassallo, of NYU Medical School, gave expert testominy that these conditions presented a serious health risk for death row inmates, who are restricted to their cells for 23 hours a day.
Additional testimony established that prison officials installed air conditioning in some portions of the facility (which was built with federal funds in 2006) such as offices and even the execution chamber itself. When it came to the inmates living quarter, however, these same officials declined to install air conditioning.
The Court directed the defendants to take immediate actions to alleviate the harsh conditions.
“We are grateful that Judge Jackson appreciated the gravity of the situation and the risk to our clients,” said Mr. Kamin, who handled the case pro bono. “The conditions on the Angola death row are completely inhumane and not acceptable in our civilized society. Regrettably, the prison leadership knew about this deplorable situation and ignored it, presenting a clear and unconscionable violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”
The Court directed remedial actions include:
- Immediately developing a detailed plan to reduce and maintain the heat index in the Angola death row tiers at or below 88 degrees Fahrenheit from April 1 through October 31. The eadline for submission is February 17, 2014 by 5:00 pm.
- From April through October, the program must include monitoring and reporting every two hours on the temperature, humidity and heat index in each of the death row tiers.
- Provide Plaintiffs and other death row inmates at risk of developing heat-related illnesses with at least one cold daily shower, direct access to clean uncontaminated water and all relief necessary to comply with the Court’s order.
- The Court informed prison officials that budget constraints would not be accepted as legitimate reasons for failing to comply with the order.
A Special Master is set to oversee full implementation of the plan.