[Pnews] For more than 40 years, Albert Woodfox has lived in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 27 10:20:57 EST 2016
In 1972, he was put in solitary confinement. He's been there since,
but now there's hope.
For more than 40 years, Albert Woodfox has lived in solitary
confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary.
Originally convicted along with two others of armed robbery in 1971
Woodfox — who is now 68 years old — would later be accused and convicted
of murdering one of the prison's guards.
After receiving a new sentence of life in prison, Woodfox was moved into
he spent the next 43 years. In June of last year, an appeals court
ordered Woodfox released from prison, citing a lack of evidence, only to
have that decision reversed. In November, a federal appeals court ruled
that Woodfox could be made to stand trial for a third time
his first two convictions were overturned.
In the meantime, he remains in solitary confinement, living out his days
in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell, punished for a crime he argues he did not
commit. There's no telling what 43 years away from other people has done
to him, and it's hard to imagine what sort of life he will have if and
when he is released back into the world, having been away from it for so
There are a few things we know about solitary confinement — none of
In 2011, the United Nations called on countries to do away with solitary
confinement. The argument is that the mental abuse prisoners in solitary
undergo as the result of their placement can amount to torture.
“Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to
rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system,” said UN special
rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez
"Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement
may cause," he added, "it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during
pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons
with mental disabilities or juveniles."
*We know studies have shown solitary confinement **doesn't actually make
anyone any safer*
<https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/211971.pdf>. In fact, some
find that people held in solitary confinement for extended periods of
time actually become ///more/ likely to become violent
*We know that somewhere around 80,000 prisoners
are being held in solitary confinement* at any given time.
*We know that it costs three times as much
to house someone in solitary confinement* than in the general population.
No matter how you look at it, keeping people in solitary confinement for
extended periods of time simply doesn't make sense.
In July, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to review
the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
He showed skepticism for the practice, calling it "not smart."
"I’ve asked my attorney general to start a review of the overuse of
solitary confinement across American prisons," said Obama during a
speech at the NAACP conference
"The social science shows that an environment like that is often more
likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more
violent. Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone
in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at
The review has been completed
<http://www.justice.gov/restrictivehousing>, and the president is
adopting its recommendations.
In an editorial from The Washington Post
on Jan. 25, the president outlined exactly what that means:
* Banning solitary confinement for juveniles
* Banning solitary confinement as a punishment for "low-level infractions"
* Reducing the amount of time inmates in solitary must stay in their cells
* Expanding on-site mental health resources
By the president and Department of Justice's estimate, this will affect
somewhere around 10,000 inmates.
It's stories like Woodfox's that makes Obama's latest action so huge.
It's rarely "necessary" to hold someone in solitary, and Obama's new
guidelines clearly state that inmates should be "housed in the least
restrictive setting necessary
to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of staff, other
inmates, and the public."
The president's move doesn't go so far as to eliminate the use of
solitary confinement, but it does set the framework for future reviews
of the system, which could in turn bring an end to the practice.
For now, though, Woodfox remains in solitary, awaiting yet another
trial and, perhaps, freedom.
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