I present to some and introduce to others, Mr. Albert Woodfox the recipient of the National Lawyers Guild 2016 Arthur Kinoy Award. Albert is an incredible
human being and my hero. Before walking out of jail a free man last February,
Albert would spend 43 years and ten months without pause in a six by nine solitary isolation cell. He had no view of the sky from his concrete box, no human contact, and in his situation, taking a walk would mean pacing from one end of the cell to the other and back again.
He would not forsake his principles and conviction and therefore became a victim of cruel and unusual punishment. To be in Albert’s presence is to be in the presence of the most humble and kind person anyone would have the good fortune to meet. Without further ado, please watch this video of my hero and exemplary human being, Mr. Albert Woodfox.
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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment document.
UA 29/07/2013 Case No. USA 10/2013 State reply: None to date: Alleged prolonged solitary confinement of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert Kig Wilkerson at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and the David Wade Correctional Centre, Louisiana. And alleged insufficient medical care of Mr. Wallace regarding a diagnosis of liver cancer (Update-Mr. Wallace was granted immediate release on 1 October 2013, and died four days later).
The Special Rapporteur regrets that the Government of the United States of America has not responded to this communication, thereby failing to cooperate with the mandate issued by the Human Rights Council. The communication referred to the alleged prolonged solitary confinement of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King Wilkerson at Louisiana State Penitentiary and David Wade Correctional Centre, Louisiana, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture and insufficient medical care received by Mr. Wallace before his death. In 1972, Mr. Woodfox and Mr. Wallace were charged and found guilty of murdering a prison guard and spent over forty years in solitary confinement, reportedly the longest period of solitary confinement of any prisoner in the United States. Mr. Wilkerson was convicted of conspiracy to murder a fellow inmate and spent twenty-nine years in solitary confinement. Mr. Wilkerson was released in February 2001. Mr. Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned and reaffirmed several times, and he remains in custody pending a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court. Temperatures in Mr. Woodfox’s cell are reportedly very high, reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was also alleged that prison review boards have not made efforts in good faith to have fair and meaningful hearings to assess the necessity of solitary confinement, setting aside consideration of the prisoner’s behavior in the assessment. Reportedly, evidence used against Mr. Woodfox and Mr. Wallace has been questioned, including allegations of bribery. The conditions of confinement reported include 23-hour daily confinement, cells measuring 2 to 3 meters or smaller, and severely limited social interaction with no access to work, education, or rehabilitation programs. The conditions had reportedly had negative psychological and physical consequences on the inmates, as acknowledged by a federal judge in 2007. Additionally, Congressmen John Conyers, Cedric Richmond, Jerrold Nadler, and Bobby Scott had expressed their concern for these constitutional violations and alleged that the Attorney General in Louisiana was colluding with the Department of Corrections to fabricate violations of prison rules to justify the inmates’ placement in solitary confinement. The Special Rapporteur regrets that the Government has not responded to this communication but notes that after forty-one years in solitary confinement, Mr. Wallace was granted immediate release by US District Chief Judge Brian Jackson on 1 October 2013 after overturning his conviction. Mr. Wallace died on 4 October 2013. The Special Rapporteur reminds the Government of the United States of America that each Government has the obligation to protect the right to physical and mental integrity of all persons. This right is set forth inter alia in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Government of the United States of America ratified on 8 June 1992, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which the Government of the United States of America ratified on 21 October 1994. In this context, he draws attention to paragraph 6 of General Comment No. 20 of the Human Rights Committee, which states that prolonged solitary confinement of the detained or imprisoned person may amount to acts prohibited by article 7 [on the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment] of the ICCPR (adopted at the 44th session of the Human Rights Committee, 1992). In this regard, he also points to article 7 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, which provides that “efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged” (adopted by the General Assembly by resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990). Under the circumstances, the Special Rapporteur finds that the United States has violated the rights of Messrs. Wallace, Woodfox and Wilkerson to physical and mental integrity.
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