Amnesty International Appeals for Release of Terminally Ill 'Angola 3' Prisoner, after 40 Years in Solitary Confinement

Press Release
July 10, 2013

Amnesty International Appeals for Release of Terminally Ill 'Angola 3' Prisoner, after 40 Years in Solitary Confinement

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Amnesty International appealed to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal today to immediately release from prison on humanitarian grounds. Herman Wallace, one of the ‘Angola 3,’ is terminally ill with cancer and has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for more than 40 years.

“Herman Wallace is 71 years old and has advanced liver cancer,” said Tessa Murphy, USA campaigner at Amnesty International. “After decades of cruel conditions and a conviction that continues to be challenged by the courts, he should be released immediately to his family so that he can be cared for humanely during his last months.”

Wallace was diagnosed with cancer after being taken to hospital on June 14. He had been on medication for some time for what was diagnosed as a stomach fungus and over the last months, has lost considerable weight. He is now being held in isolation in the infirmary at Hunt Correctional Center.

Wallace and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox were first placed in isolation in 1972; since then they have been confined for 23 hours a day to cells measuring 6 by 9 feet.

Both men were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1973, yet no physical evidence links them to the crime – potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost and the testimony of the main eyewitness has been discredited. Citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution, and inadequate defense, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, while Wallace’s case is once again up for review before the federal courts.

The two men are believed to have spent longer in solitary confinement than virtually any other U.S. prisoner in recent history. During this time, prison authorities have broken their own policies to justify their continued incarceration in harsh and inhumane conditions.

Before Wallace’s cancer diagnosis, the harsh environment had already had an impact on both the man’s physical and psychological health as acknowledged by a federal judge in 2007. The severe toll of solitary confinement on inmates’ mental and physical health has been extensively documented in studies. In recognition of this damage, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has called on states to prohibit the practice in excess of 15 days.

Amnesty International is also extremely concerned about the worsening conditions of confinement for Woodfox in David Wade Correctional Center. For approximately two months, Woodfox has been subjected to additional punitive measures – including strip searches each time he leaves or enters his cell, being escorted in ankle and wrist restraints, restricted phone access, and non-contact visits through a perforated metal screen. Temperatures in the prison cells are reportedly extremely high, regularly reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers 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.