Appeals court halts death row temperature changes

A recent order by a federal judge in Baton Rouge requiring the state to immediately begin lowering the temperature at the death row inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary was placed on a back burner Friday when an appeals court ruled the changes don’t have to be made pending an appeal.

The decision, issued late Friday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, means the state will not be forced to quickly implement a court-ordered plan to cool down the death row quarters at Angola, as the prison is often called, until an appeals panel has had a chance to review U.S. District Court Judge Brian Jackson’s decision.

Three death row inmates — Elzie Ball, 60; James Magee, 35; and Nathaniel Code, 57 — sued the state in June 2013 alleging that heat indices, or measurements of how hot it feels, on death row had reached 172 degrees last year and 195 degrees in 2011. Jackson ruled in December that the sweltering conditions at the prison amounted to a constitutional violation of the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in prisons.

In February, the state proposed lowering the summer heat inside death row by adding air conditioning, providing chests filled with ice and allowing inmates once-daily cold showers.

The state plans to appeal Jackson’s ruling, having said previously it could result in required changes at correctional facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, and not just facilities that house death-row inmates.