Target: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
Goal: Free terminally ill civil rights activist Albert Woodfox, who has been held in solitary confinement for 41 years, on humanitarian grounds
Recently Albert Woodfox, a civil rights activist who has been held in excessive and inhumane solitary confinement for 41 years, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. He is currently in isolation in the infirmary inside Hunt Correctional Center. Regardless of his alleged involvement in the 1972 murder of a prison guard—a conviction that is still being challenged, with evidence arising that the sentence may have been racially-motivated retaliation for Woodfox’s activism—Woodfox’s punishment far exceeds the crimes for which he was convicted, and decades of close confinement have resulted in extensive psychological and physical damage. Now that he is terminally ill, he should be released to his family. Urge Louisiana’s governor to release Woodfox on humanitarian grounds.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola prison, has held Woodfox for 41 years, mostly in solitary confinement. Woodfox is one of three prisoners, known colloquially as the “Angola Three,” who received lengthy sentences of Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) confinement for murder while in prison, often facing 23-hour periods of solitary confinement in tiny 6.5 x 9 ft cells. Of the other two prisoners, Robert King and Herman Wallace, only King was released after 29 years when his conviction was overturned. In 2007, a U.S. federal judge ruled that the conditions faced by the Angola Three were inhumane and caused serious mental and physical health problems. Since then, Woodfox and Wallace have received continued CCR confinement, to the detriment of their health.
Woodfox and Wallace, originally imprisoned for unrelated armed robbery cases, were both convicted for the murder of a prison guard in 1972. According to human rights group Amnesty International, “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.” Woodfox’s involvement with the radical Black Panther party, a civil rights group that advocated violence, has been cited as one reason for his extreme punishment. As an activist, Woodfox worked to end segregation, fight prison violence, and improve conditions in prison before he was charged in the 1972 murder. He faced alleged racial discrimination in his sentencing.
The state of Louisiana has denied Woodfox habeas relief three times, choosing to continue his inhumane CCR punishment without meaningful review. On the basis of his terminal cancer diagnosis and the lack of evidence to keep him imprisoned, urge the state to grant Woodfox release on humanitarian grounds.
Dear Governor Bobby Jindal,
I urge you to free terminally ill civil rights activist Albert Woodfox from his 41 years of inhumane solitary confinement. Woodfox has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and should be released on humanitarian grounds.
Extensive solitary confinement is a cruel and inhumane sentence that exposes prisoners to excessive mental and physical damage, as a federal judge found in 2007. Woodfox’s questionable murder conviction does not warrant this punishment. Woodfox has challenged racial discrimination, rape and violence in prison as an activist. Now that he is terminally ill, the state of Louisiana can in part ameliorate this unjust sentence by releasing Woodfox to his family for his final months.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Wally Gobetz via Flickr