BATON ROUGE, La. — The state of Louisiana’s refusal to install air conditioning on death row has already cost taxpayers more than $1 million in legal bills, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The state could spend roughly the same money – and possibly much less – on an air conditioning system that would satisfy a federal judge’s order to protect death-row inmates from dangerous heat and humidity inside Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Instead, the corrections department and attorney general’s office have accrued at least $1,067,000 in expenses fighting the 3-year-old lawsuit filed on behalf of three inmates with medical problems.

This tally, based on state documents provided in response to the AP’s public records requests, is the first public accounting of how much the case has cost taxpayers.

Most of the money has gone to private attorneys on opposing sides of the case, which the judge said could ultimately cost many more millions of dollars.

Expert witnesses and state contractors also have received tens of thousands of dollars. A list of expenses incurred by the prison itself adds up to more than $100,000, including an April 2014 payment of nearly $29,000 to a firm that was monitoring the heat and humidity every 15 minutes.

Airing his frustrations last month, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson said the bill is “stunning,” given the painful cuts lawmakers are making to balance the state budget.

Jackson wondered out loud whether the state’s refusal to give up the fight is based on prison management concerns, politics or ideology.

“Is this really what the state wants to do?” he asked. “It just seems so unnecessary.”

Jackson is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on whether the state’s current heat remediation measures – one cold shower a day, ice chests in their cells and fans outside – are adequately protecting the plaintiffs as Louisiana’s sweltering summer approaches.

A plaintiffs’ expert has estimated it would cost about $225,000 – not including engineering fees or operating costs – to install air conditioning on death row’s six tiers, which house dozens of inmates.

In 2014, an engineer hired by the state said nine air-conditioning units could adequately cool all eight tiers in the 10-year-old building that houses death row. An attorney for the state has said each unit would cost “several thousand dollars.”

The state hasn’t made public its total estimate.

But the judge cited a state remediation plan in suggesting that the litigation is already more costly than the fix.

“The state itself indicated that they could install mechanical air, fix this problem, end this case, for about — what was it? About a million dollars,” Jackson said.


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