Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday demanded [press release] that Louisiana state officials immediately release former Black Panther Albert Woodfox [AI backgrounder], who has been detained in solitary confinement since 1972 after being charged and convicted of fatally stabbing a prison guard. Authorities first moved Woodfox to isolation in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and later to "closed-cell restriction" at state jails. Later this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] is set to determine in a appeal lodged by the state of Louisiana whether a February district court decision, which overturned Woodfox's conviction, was correctly decided. Tessa Murphy of AI decried Woodfox's treatment Monday, stating:
The state of Louisiana's action is not in the interests of justice. Its insistence in keeping Albert Woodfox behind bars after decades in solitary confinement amounts to a campaign of vengeance, paid with taxpayers' money. ... Louisiana should withdraw its legal appeal and allow the federal court ruling to stand. Should this not occur, the Court of Appeal should rule in the interests of justice and pave the way for Albert Woodfox's release.According to reports, Woodfox typically spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a cell approximately 8 feet by 12 feet.
The legality of solitary confinement has been an ongoing debate in the US. In October UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez urged [JURIST report] the US to immediately end the solitary confinement imposed in 1972 on Woodcox. In September Mendez stated in a report to the UN General Assembly that governments should ban solitary confinement [JURIST report] for juveniles and prisoners with mental disabilities. Mendez told the assembly members that governments should impose solitary confinement only in exceptional circumstances and for short periods of time. In June at least 400 inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in California initiated a hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest of solitary confinement. Inmates of Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit (SHU), a long-term isolation ward where one-third of the prison's population is held in solitary confinement, are the instigators of the strike, and most of the strikers from other prisons are inmates in solitary confinement. In January 2011 the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that holding death row inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely is not an impermissible increase [JURIST report] in the severity of punishment.