Children in a Louisiana prison were held in solitary confinement cells in extreme heat, an emergency lawsuit filed by the ACLU, SPLC, and others alleges. On days in which the heat index ranged from 115°F to 132°F, at least 15 children, 14 of whom are Black, were imprisoned in windowless, un-air conditioned cells in what was the death row of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola prison.

The conditions put the children at risk of heatstroke, and other serious, “potentially irreversible physical and mental harm,” Craig Haney, a psychologist cited in court filings, told CNN.

Incarcerated people and Black Americans are disproportionately harmed by extreme heat due to centuries of intertwined systemic racism

The conditions imposed on the children put them “at substantial risk of serious physical and psychological harm due to their extensive and continued exposure to high temperatures,” Dr. Susi Vassallo, a physician and expert on the effects of heat on incarcerated people said in a filing. Adding, “prolonged exposure to high heat indices places people … at risk of engaging in acts of self-harm when trapped in these conditions, powerless to cool themselves off.”

The water “would make me sick”

The children were confined to the un-air-conditioned solitary confinement for 72 hours during intake and as much as 48 hours as punishment, the court filings say, with no little if any physical or psychological resources. Water in the cells had, “a color, tastes bad, and would make me sick,” one teen said, quoted in court filings. “I worry about my mental health because I’m forced to be in these cells.” Another said, “The past two days, I have been alone in my cell all day. I was not allowed to come out except to shower and I was not allowed to talk to anyone.”

“I would not dare to keep my dog in these conditions for fear of my dog dying,” Vassallo declared. “Louisiana’s cruelty to animals laws would not support keeping a dog confined in this heat in a cage. And Louisiana law requires air conditioning in all juvenile detention centers.” (Louisiana Illuminator, The Advocate, CNN, The Guardian, The Appeal, KATC, Democracy Now, Common Dreams, Truthout, The Independent; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)