(WASHINGTON, DC)— Forty two years ago today, Albert Woodfox was placed in an isolation cell in a Louisiana prison on suspicion of murdering a prison guard. He remains there today.
“Albert Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement for longer than virtually any other prisoner in the United States, which is not a benchmark any of us should be proud of,” said Jasmine Heiss, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International USA’s Individuals and Communities at Risk Program. “He is confined alone for 23 hours a day in a small cell, with no opportunities for meaningful social interaction or rehabilitation. More than four decades later, enough is enough; Albert Woodfox should be released immediately.”
While Albert has endured a four decade legal process rife with irregularities, he has spent the last 14 months in a particularly acute state of legal limbo. His conviction was overturned in late 2013 but the state immediately appealed the decision. Now Albert remains behind bars – technically an unconvicted man in the eyes of the law - as an appeals court decides his fate.
Background on Albert Woodfox
In February 2013, a federal judge ruled that Albert Woodfox’s conviction for the murder of the guard should be overturned due to a finding of racial discrimination in the selection of his grand jury foreperson. This was the third time a court has ruled to overturn his conviction.
The state of Louisiana immediately appealed this 2013 ruling and a decision from the Court of Appeals is expected soon.
In the past year, conditions worsened for Albert Woodfox as the state subjected him to strip searches each time he left or entered his cell. In January 2014, a court ruled that the prison should discontinue this humiliating practice. These conditions amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and violate international human rights law and standards.
During decades in solitary confinement Albert Woodfox has not been afforded any meaningful review by the Louisiana authorities as to why he continues to be held in such cruel conditions of isolation. He has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for decades and prison records indicate that he does not pose a threat to himself, others, or the institution.
Amnesty International’s concerns about this case go beyond the inhumane conditions of confinement that Albert Woodfox has endured since 1972, to serious legal flaws that have emerged over decades of litigation.
There is no physical evidence to link Albert Woodfox to Brent Miller’s murder and the only eyewitness to the crime was rewarded by the State for his testimony. Other witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the crime and nearly all of the witnesses later recanted their testimony. It also has also come to light that the State suppressed exculpatory evidence. Compounding these varied injustices is the overwhelmingly ineffective assistance of counsel that Albert received at both of his original trials.
Given these circumstances, Amnesty International beleives that the only just remedy for Albert Woodfox is his immediate release from prison, and calls on the Louisiana authorities to stop standing in the way of justice.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.