FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION
June 18, 2013
Mercedes Montagnes, Deputy Director
Elizabeth Compa, Staff Attorney
FURTHER ACTION TAKEN AGAINST STATE OF LOUISIANA IN ANGOLA CONDITIONS CASE: PLAINTIFFS MOVE FOR INJUNCTION
NEW ORLEANS – Today, the plaintiffs in a civil action challenging heat conditions on Louisiana’s death row moved for a preliminary injunction against prison administrators, requesting that the federal court order the prison to take tangible action to maintain humane conditions. Last Monday, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the secretary of that department, and wardens at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, alleging Eighth Amendment violations for excessive and dangerous heat on death row.
With temperatures rising steadily in the summer months, the heat index is already likely to reach dangerous levels on a near-daily basis. In order to prevent inmates from suffering the irreparable health consequences that come from prolonged heat stress, including brain damage and death, the Promise for Justice Initiative (PJI) has filed a request for the court to compel the prison to keep the heat index on death row within tolerable levels.
“Our clients have chronic medical conditions that can become deadly with the kind of heat exposure they are currently facing,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Deputy Director of PJI and lead attorney on the case. “We are asking the court to intervene now to prevent serious injuries or death. Conditions are already unsafe, and will only become more so in the weeks to come.”
Co-counsel in this action are Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolbert, Nessim, Drooks & Licenberb, P.C. (Bird Marella), a Los Angeles firm, and New Orleans attorney Steve Scheckman of the firm Schiff, Scheckman & White LLP.
The complaint filed last week stated that the heat index reached as high as 195 degrees in 2011, that inmates sleep on the concrete floors of their cells in order to be in an even slightly cooler environment, and that the prison has ignored the plaintiffs’ previous requests for relief from heat. The injunction, supported by declarations from two experts on thermoregulation and environmental safety, alleges that prisoners on death row have been exposed to heat conditions reaching into what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the “Danger” or “Extreme Danger” zones (making heatstroke increasingly likely and even imminent), every day for two months straight. Conditions often remain in that range for hours on end and into the night.
The Supreme Court has ruled that extreme temperature conditions – both hot and cold – can violate the Eighth Amendment’s requirement for minimally civilized accommodation. “Less severe conditions than these have prompted serious constitutional concerns and warranted court ordered relief,” said Nilay Vora, Associate at Bird Marella. “In this case, the relief plaintiffs seek from the court merely requires that Angola take steps necessary to prevent serious injuries and further violations of the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Plaintiffs seek no monetary damages. The suit asks only that the temperature be controlled and kept within safe levels.
The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) is a private, non-profit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty on behalf of indigent defendants and prisoners who seek fair and equal treatment under the law.
Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks & Lincenberg, P.C. (Bird Marella) is a Los Angeles based law firm acting as co-counsel with PJI.
Schiff, Scheckman & White LLP is a Louisiana law firm with offices in New Orleans, Opelousas and Baton Rouge.