Tuesday, June 09, 2015

43 years of solitary confinement comes to an end

It has been a long time since I made a blog entry (trips abroad and all that), but I was absolutely gobsmacked by a BBC article today about an American guy who has just been released from jail after an unbelievable 43 years in solitary confinement.
Albert Woodfox has been incarcerated in a maximum security facility in Louisiana since April 1972, where he was sent after an armed robbery charge. He was also one of the so-called Angola Three, members of the militant Black Panthers group against police brutality and racism in the 1960s. Woodfox was subsequently tried twice in the case of the murder of a prison guard (with a lawnmower blade, no less!), but was acquitted both times, and has always claimed he was innocent of that incident.
Nevertheless, he has apparently spent almost his whole prison term in solitary confinement, which amounts to 23 hours a day in his cell, with one hour a day to "walk alone along the tier on which his cell is located". In addition, he was allowed to exercise three times a week, and had severe restrictions imposed on "personal property, reading materials, access to legal resources, work, and visitation rights".
Louisiana Judge James Brady has ordered Woodfox's unconditional release, despite the vociferous opposition of Louisiana state prosecutors.
I think what is so astounding about this story is that it comes hard on the heels of some deep soul-searching in Canadian society about whether solitary confinement of any kind constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, or at the very least is all but useless as a correctional technique.
Apparently, some 80,000 inmates are estimated to be held in solitary confinement in the USA (and around 6,000 in Canada), despite the dire warnings of psychologists and efforts for its banning by UN torture rapporteurs.
Amazingly, Woodfox seems to be psychologically intact (although, of course, only time will tell), claiming to a local reporter that he is merely "excited and nervous".

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