AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNS 40 YEARS’ SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR ‘ANGOLA 2,’ CALLING IT ‘MOST EXTREME’
Widow of slain prison guard: ‘If they did not do this – and I believe that they didn’t – they have been living a nightmare’
Contact: Wende Gozan Brown at 212-633-4247, [email protected].
(London) – Amnesty International is mobilizing its worldwide membership to call for the immediate removal from solitary confinement of two Louisiana inmates who have been held in Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) for almost 40 years, calling it a violation of human rights law.
“The appalling treatment of the ‘Angola 2’ showcases an aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system at its most extreme,” said Larry Cox, executive director for Amnesty International USA. “Even the most hardened criminals are routinely granted rights that these men, have been denied. By simply rubberstamping the original decision to hold these men in solitary confinement, successive prison review boards have subjected Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace to decades of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, were placed in CCR in Louisiana State Penitentiary - known as Angola Prison - after they were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Apart from very brief periods, they have been held in isolation ever since. There has been no meaningful review of the men’s designation to CCR. The only reason given for maintaining the men under these conditions has been due to the "nature of the original reason for lockdown."
Both men were originally convicted of armed robbery and were serving their terms at the time of the prison guard’s murder. Amnesty International has also raised questions about the legal aspects of the case against the two men. No physical evidence linking the men to the guard’s murder has ever been found; potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost; and the convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony.
Over the years of litigation on the cases, documents have emerged suggesting that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men and that the state withheld evidence about the perjured testimony of another inmate witness. A further witness later retracted his testimony.
Their lawyers have told Amnesty International that both are suffering from serious health problems caused or exacerbated by their years of solitary confinement. The widow of the prison guard said in 2008, “If they did not do this – and I believe that they didn’t – they have been living a nightmare for 36 years!”
"The treatment to which Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been subjected for the past four decades is a violation of the United States’ obligations under international law,"said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "We are not aware of any other case in the United States where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time."
The men are confined to their cells, which measure 2 x 3 meters, for 23 hours a day. When the weather permits, they are allowed outside three times a week for an hour of solitary recreation in a small outdoor cage. For four hours a week, they are allowed to leave their cells to shower or walk, alone, along the cell unit corridor.
They have restricted access to books, newspapers and television. For the past four decades they have never been allowed to work or to have access to education. Social interaction has been restricted to occasional visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls.
They have also been denied any meaningful review of the reasons for their isolation.
Apart from ongoing legal challenges to their murder convictions, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is "cruel and unusual punishment" and therefore violates the U.S. Constitution.
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 and dignity are denied.
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For more information, please read this report: 100 years in solitary: The 'Angola 3' and their fight for justice