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USA: appeal for release of Angola 3's Herman Wallace, recently diagnosed with liver cancer

‘He was found guilty on dubious evidence in the first place and he should now be allowed to live out his last days with dignity in the care of his family’ - Tessa Murphy

Amnesty International is appealing on humanitarian grounds for the release from prison of Herman Wallace - of the “Angola 3” - who has spent over 40 years in solitary confinement in the US state of Louisiana and is now terminally ill with liver cancer.

Amnesty, which has launched an online appeal for Wallace’s immediate release at , believes the dying 71-year-old should be allowed to spend his remaining months at home with his family.

Wallace was diagnosed with cancer after being taken to hospital on 14 June, and the prognosis is that he only has months left to live. He had been on medication for what was diagnosed as a stomach fungus and in recent months had suffered considerable weight loss. He is now being held in isolation in the prison hospital in the Hunt Correctional Centre in the city of St Gabriel in Louisiana.

Wallace and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox were originally placed in isolation in 1972, and since then have been confined for 23 hours a day in two-by-three-metre cells. The two men are believed to have spent longer in solitary confinement than any other prisoners in the US. During this time, the prison authorities have broken their own policies to justify the men’s continued incarceration in harsh and inhumane conditions. During their long confinement the two have been allowed only three hours a week outdoor exercise, which they were required to take alone in a caged area. Meanwhile, they have been deprived of any meaningful social interaction, have had no access to work, educational, social or rehabilitation programmes, and their communication with family and friends has been restricted to occasional visits and limited telephone calls.

Amnesty International USA campaigner Tessa Murphy said:

“Herman Wallace is 71 years old and has advanced liver cancer.

“It is time for the authorities to show some humanity, already long overdue.

“He was found guilty on dubious evidence in the first place and he should now be allowed to live out his last days with dignity in the care of his family.”

Before Wallace’s cancer diagnosis, the conditions had already had an impact on both the men’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 various studies, including with harmful effects after just 15 days of isolated confinement. In recognition of this, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has called on all countries to prohibit the practice in excess of 15 days.

Herman Wallace was originally jailed for armed robbery in but then convicted - along with Albert Woodfox - of the murder of a prison guard in 1972, despite the fact that no physical evidence links them to the crime. Meanwhile, 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 defence, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, while Wallace’s case is again being reviewed by the federal courts. Amnesty believes these serious legal concerns compound the injustice of confining the men for decades in such punitive and cruel conditions.

In addition to concern for Herman Wallace, Amnesty is also extremely concerned about the worsening conditions of confinement for Albert Woodfox in David Wade Correctional Centre, near the town of Homer in Louisiana.

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 being limited to non-contact visits through a perforated metal screen. Temperatures in the cells are reportedly extremely high, regularly reaching up to 38 degrees Celsius, a serious health risk for inmates confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. These risks are even greater in the case of the elderly or infirm, as their bodies are unable to adjust to the heat as quickly as those of healthy, younger adults.

Amnesty is urging the Louisiana authorities to take immediate steps to alleviate these dangerous conditions for all prisoners and is calling on them to remove Albert Woodfox from isolation.

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