Covering Louisiana

Aug 21, 2012 10:54 AM by AP

Group petitions for access at Angola records

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A New Orleans nonprofit organization wants a federal court order that would require officials of the Louisiana State Penitentiary to grant center attorneys and a medical specialist access to death-row inmates and records at Angola.

Advocacy Center attorneys say in a civil lawsuit that prison officials have refused to allow them to pursue prisoner reports that death-row temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees.

"The Department (of Public Safety and Corrections) has not been served officially with the lawsuit," Pam Laborde, communications director for the department, told The Advocate in an email Monday.

"Since this is a legal matter, the Department will respond appropriately to the court," Laborde added.

Advocacy Center often defends the rights of Louisiana residents coping with disabilities, including mental illness.

In the civil suit filed Friday in Baton Rouge federal court against prison officials, the attorneys noted that some death-row inmates have health-related disabilities, including mental illness, heart problems, lung disease and diabetes.

The center attorneys also said they were asked by Mercedes Montagnes, an attorney for The Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, to investigate reports she had received about alleged excessive-heat conditions on Death Row.

A suit exhibit shows Montagnes wrote Warden Burl Cain on April 30 that: "Some men have described watching the thermometer mercury rise to 105 or 108 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest part of the day. The majority of men on Death Row have described having to sleep on the floor because of the extreme heat, even at night."

Review of air and water temperature logs for 2011 showed that July and August temperatures on Death Row "consistently ranged from 88 . to 100 degrees," Montagnes wrote Cain.

The death-penalty appeals attorney noted in her letter that mentally ill inmates taking psychotropic medications, those with diabetes and others taking dehydrating medications for chronic heart problems are placed at greater risk by excessive heat.

Montagnes suggested to Cain that such inmates could be held in a "medical tier that could be air conditioned."

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