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Louisiana, USA: 40 years in solitary for 'Angola 3' men is 'cruel and inhumane'

Case of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace must be urgently reviewed, says new report

The US state of Louisiana must immediately remove two inmates from the solitary confinement they were placed in almost 40 years ago, Amnesty International said today (6 June), as the organisation launched a new report on the case.

In its report, “ USA: 100 years in solitary: ‘The Angola 3’ and their fight for justice ”, Amnesty describes how Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, were placed in "Closed Cell Restriction" in Louisiana State Penitentiary - known as Angola Prison - since 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.

Over the course of nearly four decades there has been no meaningful review of the men’s "Closed Cell Restriction" designation. The only reason given for keeping the men under these conditions has been the "nature of the original reason for lockdown."

The men are confined to their cells, which measure 2 x 3 metres, 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. Both men were originally arrested for armed robbery.

The men’s lawyers have told Amnesty that both are suffering from serious health problems caused or exacerbated by their years of solitary confinement.

Amnesty International Americas Deputy Director Guadalupe Marengo said:

"The treatment to which Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been subjected for the past four decades is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law.

"We are not aware of any other case in the USA where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time.

"Their cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and while that takes place authorities must ensure that their treatment complies with international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners."

Amnesty 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.

Apart from ongoing legal challenges to their murder convictions, Woodfox and Wallace are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and so violates the US Constitution.

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