[Pnews] Albert Woodfox is being stripped of justice by prison officials

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 12 22:03:34 EST 2013

  Albert Woodfox is being stripped of justice by prison officials

By Contributing Op-Ed columnist 
Jasmine Heiss
November 12, 2013 at 4:53 PM, updated November 12, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Albert Woodfox 
<http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/cases/usa-the-angola-3> will take 
the stand at a courthouse in Baton Rouge Wednesday morning (Nov. 
13). His testimony will cover the most recent chapter in what has become 
four decades of a nightmare behind bars. Mr. Woodfox, 66, has spent 23 
hours a day in a 6- by 9-foot cell for more than 40 years.

Angola Three member Albert Woodfox is asking a judge to re-enforce rules 
surroung strip and cavity searches of inmates in Louisiana's prisons.

These are conditions of prolonged solitary confinement, years in a cage 
with little meaningful human contact and no access to rehabilitation 
programs. This treatment is cruel, inhumane and degrading. Since March, 
the Louisiana corrections department has compounded this nightmare by 
subjecting Mr. Woodfox to invasive strip and cavity searches every time 
he leaves his cell - when he goes to see the doctor, gets a haircut or 
uses the phone to call his lawyers.

These searches are not only degrading, they're illegal - and in a 
strange twist of irony, it was Mr. Woodfox's previous lawsuit against 
the state that set this precedent.

In 1978, he sued the state and successfully put an end to the 
humiliating strip searches that he was forced to endure in the 
mid-1970s. Judge Daniel W. LeBlanc's ruling established a precedent that 
holds these searches to be illegal, unconstitutional and against 
internal prison policy. According to Judge LeBlanc's ruling, the prison 
"must curtail, and in certain instances cease, the routine requirement 
of anal examinations."

The court's order clearly delineated the nuances of the ruling: Searches 
may be required before an inmate enters a segregation area or following 
unescorted contact with general population inmates, but those searches 
must cease if a segregated inmate is moved within the segregation area 
or while in the prison and under escort or observation.

That precedent, which lasted more than 30 years, came to an abrupt end 
when Judge LeBlanc died in March, and the strip and cavity searches 
quickly resumed both for Mr. Woodfox and others housed on his tier at 
David Wade Correctional Center. Mr. Woodfox endures strip searches as 
often as six times a day. He and his attorneys tried to resolve this 
without litigation for months to no avail.  Now they have turned to the 
court to step in.

In most states, the law lives longer than the judge, but in this case, 
his lawyers are requesting a restraining order against the Louisiana 
Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Every day, corrections officers strip and search Mr. Woodfox and the 
other prisoners held in solitary confinement. He is searched despite the 
fact that he is shackled in wrist, ankle and waist chains when outside 
of his cell, is under constant observation or escort and typically has 
no contact with individuals other than correctional personnel.

Even when he is left to exercise alone in a fenced-in yard - essentially 
a closed cage - Mr. Woodfox is invasively searched before returning to 
his cell. The prison continues this practice despite knowing these strip 
searches are unlawful. Unable to explain the safety or security threats 
they are addressing when they search Mr. Woodfox, they arbitrarily force 
him to strip until he is naked, bend at the waist, lift his genitals and 
spread his buttocks so that officers may inspect him.

To say that such practices are an affront to one's dignity seems almost 
too mild.

When I called for Mr. Woodfox's release on the Capitol steps in Baton 
three weeks ago, I did so knowing more than 50,000 people had signed a 
petition also calling on the state of Louisiana to pursue justice.

Albert Woodfox was convicted of the murder of a prison guard at 
Louisiana State Penitentiary, despite the fact that no physical evidence 
tied him to the crime and the key eyewitness was bribed by the state. 
After a legal process that has spanned four decades, the serious flaws 
in Mr. Woodfox's case stand without remedy. In December, Amnesty 
International will feature Mr. Woodfox's case in the Write For Rights 
Campaign <http://www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon/> - the world's largest 
letter-writing event. Tens of thousands of activists will write letters 
to Gov. Bobby Jindal and Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell, 
calling on the authorities to see that Mr. Woodfox is immediately 

When Mr. Woodfox takes the stand today his testimony will prove that you 
can strip a human being of his clothes but that discarding a man's 
dignity is a much heavier burden. As the state corrections department 
recklessly pursues vengeance for a murder there is little evidence 
Albert Woodfox committed, they do so with indifference to his dignity 
and with little regard for human rights or state laws.

However, the world continues to watch Louisiana and affirm Albert 
Woodfox's basic rights and dignity. Justice may be delayed, but it will 
never be silenced.

/Jasmine Heiss is a campaigner at Amnesty International USA.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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