After lawsuit, fans help relieve heat on Alabama's death row
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After lawsuit, fans help relieve heat on Alabama's death row 

The Associated Press 
8/11/2003, 5:20 p.m. CT 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Inmates on Alabama's death row at Holman Prison now have a small fan in each cell, after a lawsuit accused prison officials of risking inmates' lives during oppressive summer heat.

Prison officials had banned fans for security reasons but allowed the specially made plastic fans to be installed following negotiations with attorneys for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the suit a year ago claiming inhumane conditions on Holman's death row.

An attorney for the SPLC, Grace Graham, said Monday it's still hot on death row at the prison near Atmore in south Alabama but the small fans have made it bearable.

"This is not an issue of inmates' comfort. When we brought this case it really was an issue of inmates' life or death," Graham said.

Prison officials had said the prison system could not afford the fans and would not allow inmates to buy them, Graham said. But she said funds were made available by Bryan Stevenson, who handles death row cases as director of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center.

"With the temperature over 100 degrees, it was really horrible there. To respond was not a hard call," he said.

Graham said 170 fans were purchased for $2,635 from a company that makes fans for prisons. The fans were described as being about the size of a dinner plate.

Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett confirmed the fans have been delivered to each cell on death row. Prison officials had prohibited fans on death row in 1995 for security reasons, but inmates who already had fans were allowed to keep them.

Corbett said the old fans have been removed and that all death row inmates now have the new fans. He also said wire mesh that covers the front of cells for security reasons has been removed from some to improve circulation on the death row cell block.

There are 163 inmates on death row at Holman. Another 22 death row inmates are housed at Donaldson prison near Birmingham and three female death row inmates are at the Tutwiler women's prison, but the lawsuit dealt only with the condemned inmates at Holman.

Graham said attorneys for the inmates will not immediately ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.

"We will have to wait to determine if the fans improve ventilation to the point the heat is no longer a risk to inmates' health. It certainly has improved the comfort level," Graham said.

The lawsuit said inmate Michael Maxwell had blacked out in his cell because of the heat. Maxwell, convicted in Colbert County for the murder of a man and his 11-year-old son who were on a fishing trip, wrote a letter of thanks to Graham.

"It is through you and all of those who worked on this project that we are now feeling relief from the summer's abject heat," Maxwell said.